Cold Earth by Sarah Moss

An intriguing concept:

A group of six archaeologists in Greenland seeking traces of lost Viking settlements. They are isolated, but of course they have modern equipment and communications.

They are a mismatched group, and there are tensions from the start.

News reaches them that a major epidemic is moving across the northern hemisphere. And then communications begin to fail.

Will they survive? Will ever see their homes again? And, if they do, what will they find?

The story unfolds in six narratives. Each is in part a letter – maybe a final letter – home and in part an account of events in Greenland. It’s an effective device. It makes every character distinct, and six separate lifestories unfold and then come together in Greenland.

Some were likeable, and some were maddening. Such is life. And their interactions – from the profound to the deeply mundane – were utterly believable. There were moments that didn’t quite work, but then along would come moments caught so perfectly that I just had to keep the faith.

And one of the group went badly off the rails. It was very well done. I was suddenly jolted from being infuriated by her behaviour to realising that she maybe had some very real problems. And that maybe her fears weren’t so irrational.

I was gripped, and kept turning the pages, as the chapters became shorter and shorter, as the tension built, until the story reached an end.

And then a postscript. It gave closure, but I do rather wish it hadn’t been there. I would have prefered a little more ambiguity.

And I have to say that, although this isn’t really my sort of book, I did like it in some strange way.

7 responses

  1. This sounds interesting to me. My library doesn’t have it but I’ll keep an eye out for it. Not many novels are set in Greenland I think. Epistolary fiction can be so satisfying when it’s well done. And I like something a little different story wise. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    • It wasn’t quite epistolary – the letters soon drifted into general storytelling – but that worked very well. I hope a copy turns up for you.

    • I generally like some closure too, but I also like a little room left so that I can wonder. I can see the sense of having a postscript, but I really don’t think this one worked.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 24, 2010 | Semicolon

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