Lindsay (Little Reader Library)'s Reviews > When Nights Were Cold

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
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Mar 01, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from February 23 to March 01, 2012

'We could all go mad in the mountains together.'

I love walking in the fells of the English Lake District, and in Snowdonia, and have done since I was a young girl. This book really appealed to me, telling as it does the story of four young women who grasped at their freedom and embarked on daring mountaineering excursions, with dramatic, tragic consequences. For me it lived up to its promise.

Grace Farringdon is a young woman in the early 1900's who is determined to escape a life of marriage and housewifely duties to get out into the world that she has learned so much about from her father, with whom she recreated the polar expeditions with maps, her 'darning needle representing Ernest Shackleton', and her father's 'button, Captain Scott'. Against her parents' wishes, and unlike her sister Catherine, she breaks free from her family, applies for and takes up a place at Candlin College, aided by financial support from her Aunt Edith in America. There she meets and befriends Leonora Locke, Cecily Parr and Winifred Hooper. Grace forms the Antarctic Exploration Society and together the four of them spend evenings studying and recreating the great explorers and their routes in their attempts on the South Pole. Grace dreams of one day being part of such an expedition. In the meantime, she contents herself with practice with her fellow mountaineers, first in North Wales, then in the Alps at Zermatt.

The different personalities of the four women explorers are interesting in their contrasts; for Grace, 'the purpose of the society is to conduct serious research...we're following Scott's preparation for his next expedition and learning from past ones'; whereas for Locke, who is fun, friendly and dreams of a future in acting, she sees that 'we have a lot of larks, really, don't we?'; Then there is Hooper, who looks forward to marriage to beau Teddy and a traditional life as a wife and mother after college, and who is nervous about walking in the mountains, and Parr, who is enigmatic, quiet yet forthright in her views, and unlike Locke and Grace, Parr is against the Suffragette movement. Parr brings prior knowledge of the mountains to the group, her Aunt and Uncle already having climbed extensively. But Parr has also suffered a tragic familial loss on the mountains. Though Grace befriends them both, Locke and Parr are never entirely friendly towards each other, and Locke gives a marvellous description of her chilly impression of Parr: 'I expect glaciers form under her gaze, avalanches hear her hard voice and turn straight back up the mountain.' The four of them embark on their expeditions, with the world around them on the verge of change, and nothing will be the same ever again for any one of them after their trip to the Alps.

We hear from Grace at the time everything was happening in her life, and then fifteen years later, just merely existing in the Dulwich family home, where she tells us 'I am shivering in my memories.' She is looking back, as the only survivor of the four in the group, with her memories unclear and clouded, her mind uncertain in it's recollections, and she conjures up people from her past into her present, but are these just imaginings, are they real or merely ghosts? What really happened on the mountains?

Susanna Jones effectively conveys the excitement of the young Grace, her desire to escape the constraints of home and the restrictions imposed by society due to her gender, and get out into the world; her fascination with the polar explorers, and equally, the sadness of the withdrawn figure who looks back and ponders how hope and friendship turned to disaster, guilt and loneliness. This is the first novel I have read by this author and I found her writing a pleasure to read.

When Nights Were Cold is an atmospheric read with an appealing storyline combining social change, friendship, adventure, excitement and tragedy - I loved it.
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02/23/2012 page 47
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