Reviews

Icefields

Stephen Osborne

Two books full of ice and snow: Icefields (NeWest) by Thomas Wharton, and Smilla's Sense of Snow (Doubleday) by Peter Hoeg. Peter Hoeg's sense of snow is utterly convincing: his book had me shivering in August (I actually took to reading it under the covers at night, which was very cozy). Hoeg is clearly a poet of the ice and his book steams along under that strength for a couple of hundred pages. But Smilla, his Inuit protagonist, does not. She begins in strength but Hoeg fails to sustain her presence, and when that happens, what began as a fascinating and thickly textured mystery begins to unravel and then to devolve into phantasmagoria. Thomas Wharton's ice book doesn't fail, but his Smilla-like character suffers as Hoeg's does: they both seem to want different authors (at one point Wharton's character has to recite part of Kubla Khan out loud—a thing that no sensible author should ever require of a beloved character). Wharton clings rather perilously at times to an embarrassingly High Seriousness, and he's not nearly as good with the snowy white stuff of the arctic, but his book, with its icefield mystery, holds up to the end. Great first sentence, too: "At quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse.'

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at geist.com.


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