Book progress

Perhaps it is the approach of the year’s end that is causing me to write posts about ‘progress’ at the moment. Over the past year or so, I have written a few times on here about a book I am currently writing, a novel with the working title ‘Flood’. In a little under three months’ time (on the 31st of January 2023) in some parts of the country (and in the Netherlands) commemorations will take place for the victims of the 1953 flood disaster. The devastating events of one night saw more than 300 people killed in east coast communities of England and Scotland, a further 230 deaths at sea, and more than 1,800 in the Netherlands and Belgium.

My novel is set in Canvey Island in Essex, a place I was familiar with as a child, having grown up in the east of London. Canvey was one of the worst affected communities and as a place it fascinates me, due in part, I think, to the fact that it bears some similarities to Zeeland in the Netherlands, a place I know well and which is very special to me.

Low-lying Canvey – the Lobster Smack pub (shown on the right of the photo) is mentioned in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations

I dialled back my paid work (I’m self-employed) over the spring and summer both to support my two daughters during their exams and to put some serious time into writing the novel. I managed about half of it in that time, and the other half has been squeezed out over the last three months. I am happy to report that I have almost finished the first draft. Hallelujah! It’s been tough work though and I found there were some gaps in my knowledge as I went along.

I paid a further research visit to Canvey a few weeks ago and met with some wonderful ladies running the Canvey Island Heritage Centre (which has been closed on both my previous visits) who let me look through their archive of material about the flood. The staff in the local library were also extremely helpful.

I had hoped to get hold of a copy of a book while I was there, called The Great Tide: the story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex by Hilda Grieve, which was published by Essex County Council in 1959. Grieve was a council employee, a researcher and historian and her book is considered to be the seminal account of the disaster. It is almost 900 pages long and gives a detailed account of the maritime history of the coastal and river communities affected by the flood, the meteorological phenomena present on that terrible night, as well as the evolution of the storm and its progress from its Atlantic source, around the coast of Scotland (many fishers lost their lives that night too), and then down the east coast of England, climaxing at the Thames estuary. I hoped to be able to consult a reference copy of the book in Canvey library, but alas they did not have one (much to their own astonishment!). Not having time to go to another library which did have it in stock, I found myself purchasing a copy. At £50, I had been reluctant, but now that I have it I realise what a treasure it is. What is so amazing to me is how the author has managed to combine a factual historical account with the real-life human stories. Her hour by hour description of the rising tides at each point along the coast, the growing alarm of people employed to monitor high tides, the warnings being sent to police stations, and then the impacts on individuals is thoroughly gripping. The book is both a work of some scholarship and a poignant tribute to the suffering of those affected.

The next stage of the work on my book is to re-read and edit it. This process can often be harder ad just as time-consuming as writing the first draft. I hope not! When I first conceived this project, a few years ago now, I had hoped that I might find a publisher in time for the 70th anniversary. Alas, that will not be the case now, but there is a chance it could still come out in 2023. My research into the industry (and my awareness of how spectacularly difficult it is for a debut author to get a publishing deal) is making me consider self-publishing, but I need to find out a bit more about that. I wonder if anyone reading this has any experience or advice about self-publishing or e-publishing?

Whatever happens, writing this book was my biggest project for 2022, and I am satisfied with what I have accomplished. When you approach the end of the year (or sometimes even the end of the week!) it can be easy to get frustrated about what you haven’t done, or about goals missed. We have to remember that there is fun, fulfilment, learning and real achievement in the journey too, and looking at how far one has come is more productive than how far one has still to go. I hope we can all remember this as we reflect on 2022.

It has not escaped my attention that today is Thanksgiving in the United States. I’ve always loved the idea of this festival and wish we had something similar on this side of the Atlantic. So, Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and family!

On the ebb and flow of reading

I have not posted for a couple of weeks – let’s call it life getting in the way, the usual thing. I did have a few days away in the Netherlands during that time, however, so I certainly cannot complain. We go there every year, to Zeeland, and I have often posted on here about my trips. This time, my husband and I went, for the first time ever, without our kids, who were all elsewhere. On an impulse we drove all the way from Zeeland in the south to Den Haag (about 150km north) to visit the city’s renowned art gallery, the Kunstmuseum. They hold a large collection of work by an artist my husband was keen to see, but unfortunately none of it was on display! It is an amazing place – an Art Deco building, rather severe-looking on the outside, but fantastic on the inside with a large glass-roofed central atrium (below) and galleries around the edges and magnificent tiling work. There were displays of paintings, sculpture, ceramics and textiles and works were set out in a really innovative way, juxtaposing old and new to illustrate contrasts as well as showing the traditional techniques underpinning even the most modern pieces. We spent the entire day there and did none of the other things we’d planned for our day in the city!

Central atrium in the Kunstmuseum, Den Haag

My reading has been really up and down this last few weeks too. After the announcement of the Booker prize shortlist, I set about working through all six books, as I have done every year for a while now. I managed four and a half, I think, but was struggling with the book that in fact won, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. I am sorry to say that I STILL have not finished it! I am just not finding it is drawing me in and I am struggling to care about any of the characters. Perhaps one day I will get around to reviewing it on here…!

The non-fiction challenge I set myself at the start of the year (one non-fiction title a month) has completely gone out of the window! Many of the books I have chosen to date have simply been too lengthy to get through in a month and I am finding with non-fiction that I need to read it with more attention because it generally does not draw you into its world engaging all the senses, in the way that fiction does. My current non-fiction of choice is Margaret Atwood’s Burning Questions, which I have been dipping in and out for weeks (months?). As with everything the great lady touches it IS brilliant, and witty, and clever, and informative, but I am reading it with the author’s Canadian drawl in my ear. So it’s slow.

By contrast, the audiobook I am listening to at the moment (my book club’s choice) is classic Haruki Murakami 1Q84. It is outstanding. I am devouring it. But it’s 45 hours of listening time, three thick volumes’ worth. When listening to it I find I am completely drawn into its peculiar world and Murakami’s writing is just delectable. But it is long.

I was talking to my daughter yesterday. She started university this autumn and is finding that this last week or so has got very challenging, that the workload has stepped up suddenly (week five is the worst, apparently). She was telling me that she does not feel very productive, even though she seems to be spending hours working. I feel a bit like that with my reading right now. Reading of course is a pleasure and a joy in itself and one should not feel pressure to finish, or to tick a book off the list, particularly where slower-paced reading is required to get the very best out of it. But when you review a lot of books, you get used to zipping through them, and it can feel ‘unproductive’ when you find yourself wading through very long books, or less fulfilling books.

I am reaching the end of both the Booker prize winning book and the Murakami so I hope to have something to review in the next week!

Do you ever find yourself in a reading rut? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Bye bye summer, hello Booker shortlist!

It has been a long, hot and eventful summer, but the year has ticked round, as it inevitably does, and we find ourselves once again at the start of meteorological autumn – my favourite time of the year.

Like many people, we found ourselves travelling more this year than we have done for what has felt like a long time, primarily because we COULD. Two, summers of severe restrictions curtailed lots of people’s plans and it has certainly felt to me as if there was a high degree of pent-up wanderlust. We had a family holiday in France this year, a few days in sweltering Paris, followed by a longer spell in the south-western Gironde area, not far from the location of some of the terrible forest fires to hit parts of continental Europe, although we were lucky not to have been directly affected. It was heaven and I ate far too much patisserie, partly thanks to our holiday home being located next door to what we were told was the best boulangerie in town – it would have been rude not to partake!

We also spent time with family in Ireland, as well as a couple of shorter trips in the UK. Interspersed with that was the stress/excitement of not one but TWO results days. It has been the most difficult year for 16-18 year olds in this country, with the damage done to so many by Covid and online learning, all the talk of bringing down the perceived grade inflation of the last couple of years, fewer university places on offer, not to mention the uncertain economic environment. I am relieved to say that both my daughters did fantastically well, getting results they thoroughly deserved, and I will be despatching my middle child off to university in a few short weeks.

With only my youngest child left at school (and with her going into sixth form that’s only two years left!), September for me now is less about ‘back to school’ – that is a hard habit to break after 16 years! – and more about renewal and re-focus. I have had my break (three weeks without posting a single blog!) and now I am ready to start again.

What does September mean for you?

One event that has been on my radar for some time, but which was somewhat overshadowed this year by the appointment of yet another new Prime Minister in the UK (our fourth in six years!), was the announcement of the Booker Prize shortlist last night. It went largely unnoticed here because the mainstream media was completely absorbed by the shenanigans in Downing Street. As ever it is an interesting list, and I am familiar with only two of the authors.

As usual, I will be attempting to read my way through the shortlist before the winner is announced on 17th October, a little under six weeks’ time. Last year was the first time I actually managed to get through all six, and I am fairly optimistic of being able to do so again this year as quite a few of them are pretty short! That does not necessarily mean one can speed-read of course as short books are often more intense, I think. A couple of them are very long!

I aim to publish reviews regularly in the coming weeks and to make my prediction on the day itself. I’m very excited! Having only just returned from Dublin I think I will be starting with Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, a novel set in a small Irish town in the 1980s, a period when society there was dominated by the Church.

I would love to hear what you’ve been up to over the summer and what your plans are for the autumn.

Happy reading!

And there it was…my 400th post!

I got very into my #KeepKidsReading week last week and my 400th post completely passed me by! It has been a busy time, with one thing and another, not least my two daughters starting their GCSE and A level exams, so I put out my posts last week without paying attention to stats or anything like that, not that I do much anyway! It wasn’t until early this week, when I looked back at my list of blogs so I could re-share, that I noticed I had clocked up 402.

So, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

I have been blogging for almost six years so I’m not exactly prolific (I make that a little under six posts a month), but I’m okay with that. I prefer quality over quantity and I know that if I tried to chuck a blog out every day, I would put less effort into each one. Also, as a bookblogger, each post usually takes a fair bit of research, so the writing part is usually the least time-consuming.

I also don’t have thousands of followers so I don’t have any great insights for any novice bloggers out there. Nor do I monetise my blog in any way – this was always a passion project for me, not a job, and that gives me freedoms.

If I had to summarise what I heave learned from six years and 400 posts-worth of blogging, it would probably be this:

  • Blog because you enjoy it, not because you think you’re going to get anything out of it.
  • Read other people’s blogs – you can’t expect anyone to return the favour otherwise and you never know what you might learn.
  • Communicate with people – the blogging community, particularly fellow bloggers writing about similar things (your ‘tribe’) are amazing. Get to know them.
  • Write from the heart, be your authentic self, not what you think you should be.
  • Keep a meticulous log of your posts – maybe this sounds corny, but I have a huge spreadsheet which enables me to plan ahead, keep track of my reading (without which I would not have a blog) and keep track of events in the book world (prizes, etc).
  • Engage with social media if you want to, but you don’t have to. I used to share a lot on the various platforms, but now I do very little, and I don’t think it has made one iota of difference. Except that I am a lot happier when I’m NOT on social media. It depends on your subject area and target audience of course, but for me, the blogging community is a far more honest and rewarding one.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about blogging, whether you’re a newbie or an old-hand, bookblogger or something else. I’m always open to learning more.

Book progress

A few weeks ago, I posted on here about the terrible flood events of January 1953 that devastated parts of the east coast of England and the Netherlands. In England over 300 people lost their lives in one terrifying night and in the Netherlands the death toll exceeded 1,800. This event is rarely talked about in England and I am not sure why as events which have caused much less loss of life and less destruction and which also took place a generation or more ago, command much greater pubic attention. Perhaps it is the ‘no-fault’ nature of the disaster – it was a natural event, not caused by negligence, corruption or malicious intent, unlike say the bombing of the Pan Am aeroplane over Lockerbie in 1988 (270 deaths) or the Aberfan colliery disaster in 1966 (144 deaths). I do not wish to ‘rank’ these events in terms only of death toll – the Aberfan disaster killing as it did mostly schoolchildren is particularly horrific – but I am simply somewhat surprised that it seems to have slipped from memory.

The morning after – Canvey Island after the devastating floods on 31 January 1953

The loss of life associated with the 1953 storms could not be said to be entirely ‘no fault’. Enquiries found a woeful lack of a meaningful communication system, and the fact that the events took place over the weekend (meaning that officials were not working) certainly contributed to the death toll. Perhaps it was the proximity of these events to the second world war that has contributed in part to the amnesia; tens of thousands of civillians died in the war that had ended only eight years earlier. It is also likely that the lack of investment in maintaining civil defences both during and after the weather contributed to the ease with which flood barriers were breached.

So, as you can see, I’ve been doing research! I’ve read pretty much all the main sources on the subject, and watched quite a lot of newsreel footage from the time. I’d like to tell you about one of the books I read, which had a section on the 1953 floods but which was about the tides more generally. Tide: The Science and Lore of the Greatest Force on Earth, written by Hugh Aldersley-Williams, a scholar of natural sciences, and published in 2017 is a brilliant read. I borrowed it from my local library, intending to read only the section relevant to my research, but I ended up working through the whole book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author is an intelligent and witty writer whose knowledge and authority on his subject is slightly concealed by his humour and deft use of language. It is scholarly work dressed up as an entertaining read, and there aren’t many serious works of non-fiction you can say that about.

The author looks at the link between the sea on earth and our moon, something I had never before understood fully. He also explores the cultural impact of the tides, particularly on nations like the United Kingdom which has such a long coastline relative to its size. Before clocks were invented, “measuring time” was meaningless. People lived their lives by natural phenomena such as the position of the sun, the phase of the moon, the behaviour of wildlife, and the ebb and flow of the tides. Clocks have largely inured us to these movements.

“The coast of the British Isles is one of the most tidally lubricated coasts anywhere in the world.”

Hugh Aldersley-Williams

Hugh Aldersley-Williams writes in detail about historical events that have been influenced by tidal flows, such as the cholera epidemic in London in the 1880s (construction of a sewerage system in the west end of the city meant that the tides of the Thames forced river water into the drinking water in the east of the city). The success of the D-Day landings in northern France in 1944 depended heavily on the accurate prediction of the tides. The author also travelled widely to investigate tidal phenomena all over the world and writes finally (and inevitably) about rising sea levels and the impact of the tides on low-lying coastal communities. Devastating flooding in Europe this last winter has given us a foretaste of this.

This book was an absolutely brilliant read and I recommend it highly.

Another book I read as part of my research and which I did not enjoy was Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke. I read it because it is set in Canvey Island, the location of my own book. However, I found that this book did not keep my interest – the plot was thin and the premise weak. I hope my own book portrays Canvey Island in a more positive light than Vulgar Things. I don’t like criticising books so I won’t say any more.

I recently attended an online writing class with Kate Mosse and Maggie O’Farrell. As writers of historical fiction they said that a book should wear its research thinly. We have all, I am sure, read books where the author is just dying to tell you everything they have found out about their topic! As a novice writer I need to be very careful about this. So, it’s the school Easter holidays and I am using this time to take a break between completing the research phase and beginning the writing phase of my book. Writing starts next week! I have cleared my diary for the next month or two and have high expectations of myself. There is danger to this of course; I could hit creative blocks, or plot problems, and will get myself in a panic about not hitting my daily word count! We will see.

Wish me luck!

#International Women’s Day

9 amazing books for this very special day.

Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists

Naomi Alderman – The Power

Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Clarissa Pinkola Estes – Women Who Run with Wolves

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Fiona Mozley – Hot Stew

Michelle Obama – Becoming

Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Tara Westover – Educated

The East Coast Floods- 1953

This week was the 69th anniversary of the worst natural disaster to befall Britain in the 20th century, one of the worst ever in fact. On the night of the 31st of January 1953 a storm that began as a depression in the north Atlantic, moved to the North Sea and rolled down the east coast of Britain. Earlier in the day, the storm had already claimed 135 lives when it caused fatal damage to the MV Princess Victoria, an early roll-on/roll-off style ferry operating between Stranraer and Larne in the Irish Sea. This alone was Britain’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

The MV Princess Victoria sank 69 years ago. The story was covered on the Belfast Live news website earlier this week (Image: Mirrorpix)

Tragically, even though the Princess Victoria sank on the afternoon of 31 January, poor communications meant that news of the storm did not reach communities on the east coast. If you look at a map of Britain and the north west coast of Europe you will notice the dramatic narrowing of the North Sea as it reaches Kent and northern France at the English channel. The bit between East Anglia and the Netherlands is shaped like a funnel. And that is exactly how it behaved on the night of 31 January. By tragic coincidence, the storm occurred on the night of a new moon spring tide, when the waters reach high levels anyway. It was, to use an extremely apt expression, ‘a perfect storm’. A huge surge of water could not escape through the channel fast enough and the funnel overflowed in dramatic fashion. The water had nowhere else to go except on to the low-lying flatlands of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Lincolnshire, and most devastatingly of all, the Netherlands.

Because it occurred in the middle of the night, many homes flooded while their inhabitants slept. Many of those coastal homes were poorly built, timber framed and single-storey. In all, 326 people died in Britain. A further 230 deaths at sea can be attributed the storm. In the Netherlands, there were 1,863 deaths, much of the land being below sea level. The Netherlands has been no stranger to devastating flooding over the centuries and so it has long taken its sea defences programme very seriously, but even the renowned Dutch ingenuity at dealing with the sea was no match for a surge which saw sea levels on that night rise to 5.6m above the norm.

Exhibit at the Watersnoodsmuseum, Ouwerkerk, Netherlands

I know Zeeland, the southernmost region of the Netherlands and the worst affected by the floods, well; I have been visiting it regularly for twenty years. And I first learned about the 1953 storm surge when I was there in 2003 and there were commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary. There is a museum which tells the story of that night in fascinating and very poignant detail. The last time I was there they had a virtual reality exhibit where you could see what it was like to be surrounded by rising waters inside your own home. It seemed to me extraordinary that I had never heard about the disaster at home, even though I grew up in Essex.

I have been wanting to write about this neglected piece of British history for a very long time and have been ruminating on a novel which I had hoped might be publishable on the 70th anniversary of the disaster (this time next year) – if I’ve any hope of meeting that deadline I’d better get my skates on! In December I made a long-delayed trip to Canvey Island in Essex to undertake some research. Sadly, the Canvey Island Heritage Museum, the only museum I know of in the UK which has information about the floods, has been closed since the start of the pandemic. But just walking around the island (it is tiny) gave me a powerful sense of what it might have been like. Canvey Island lies in the Thames estuary and is separated from its nearest town, Benfleet, by a wide creek. Until the early 1900s, the only means of access was via a causeway at low tide, on foot or by horse and cart. Canvey lies barely above sea level and 58 people on the island lost their lives on the night of 31 January, many of them children. It suffered the greatest loss of any of the towns and villages affected that night.

Canvey Island flooding 1953
Flooding in Cavey Island, 1953 (Image: PA/PA Archive)

The memories of the island’s terrible experience are still palpable today. Along the sea wall, a powerful mural depicts some of the stories of that terrible night. I remember visiting Canvey as a child – it was a sort of seaside place. No-one would disagree that the island has seen better days; people think that the south-east of England is all bright lights, prosperity and high property values, but it isn’t. The sense of community remains powerful, however, and, sitting in the local library poring over their collection of books about the flood I was struck by the sense of separateness felt, as a mark of pride. I hope the pictures below convey a small part of its specialness.

Images from the Sea Wall murals on Canvey Island, an example of the steel gates that now provide protection to the islanders, and houses lying on land that is as low as the level of the sea on the other side of the wall.

The trip gave me a powerful impetus to get the book started – and I have! I am writing this post now, partly to put a marker down that, hey, I’m doing this! Trying to make myself accountable. But also to draw attention to this terrible disaster that seems to have slipped from our national memory.

Reading Challenge – December choice

And so, the final month of the year begins and it’s time for the last book in my 2021 reading challenge. I usually choose a theme for each month, but this year I picked a very specific book for December- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I almost always select something short for December because it is such a busy month, and this novella fits the bill perfectly at less than 100 pages, which should be easily achievable. I have an almost complete collection of vintage Dickens editions, bought in secondhand bookshops in the 1980s, as I did a special study of the author for my English literature degree. Strangely, A Christmas Carol is not in my library so I will have to acquire a copy. I quite fancy one of those lovely clothbound editions, even though they are quite pricey, to match all my other Dickens hardbacks.

We all know the story but how many of us have actually read this 1843 Dickens novella?

I love Dickens and A Christmas Carol might be one of the only books of his that I have not read. Honestly, I cannot remember if I have because of course most of us will know the story and all the main characters – Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim. Published in December 1843 it was an instant best-seller. It has never been out of print and has been adapted for stage and screen many times. It was Dickens’s sixth work to be published; his well-known classics Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop had already been serialised to great acclaim. My own personal Dickens favourite, Barnaby Rudge, came out just before A Christmas Carol.

November was a very busy month for me so after my Booker Prize reading marathon, I have not actually managed to read very much this last month and have only just started my reading challenge choice (Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying). I don’t expect it to take me very long, however; it’s quite a page-turner! My day job has kept me very busy, my kitchen renovation drags on and my youngest child had an operation (a routine procedure) so life has been pretty hectic. I am expecting December to be quieter and I am looking forward to a gentle build-up to Christmas. With the Covid Omicron variant threatening to alter everyone’s plans in the coming weeks, I will most likely be hunkering down at home with the family and not doing too much in the way of partying. My Christmas shopping will be largely local and outdoors, no bad thing, as I await my booster jab.

So, I hope to be able to get back to regular posting in the coming weeks and will be sharing my usual thoughts on bookish Christmas gift ideas, so look out for those.

Happy reading!

Book review – “Dark Matter” by Michelle Paver

I chose this book for October in my Reading Challenge, the theme for which was a ghost story. There were quite a few that I fancied, including many classics that I have long wanted to get around to, but I liked the sound of this one and Paver is an author I have always wanted to try, having read some great reviews of her work. She mostly writes stories for young people and this novel was one of her early ventures into writing for adults, although I am loathe to make that distinction.

The book has a tantalising opening; it is a letter from one Algernon Carlisle (‘Algie’) in response to an enquiry from a Dr Murchison, who is researching ‘phobic disorders’, applying for information on an Arctic expedition he was part of. Algie’s reply is cool; he seems somewhat affronted by the suggestion that the events of the Arctic expedition were a result of a ‘phobic disorder’ and writes that, since one of his friend’s died and the other was deeply damaged by the experience, he therefore does not wish to be reminded of it.

Set in 1937, the book’s narrator is Jack Miller, an educated but lower class civil servant who is bored with his job and rather bitter about his situation in life. He meets a group of upper class Oxbridge-educated young men who are setting up a year-long expedition to the Arctic and are seeking a wireless operator. After meeting Jack they invite him to join them and it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, as well as taking Jack away from his repetitive and uninteresting existence. He has mixed feelings about the group but he gradually develops a close friendship with one of them, Gus.

When they set off on the trip in midsummer, they are full of enthusiasm, but the first alarm bells ring when the captain of the ship commissioned to take them to the abandoned mining settlement known as Gruhuken in Spitsbergen (which sits between Greenland and Norway in the Arctic Ocean), is anxious about travelling to the place. He is unspecific about his reservations but it is clear that something deeply untoward happened there at the time when the place was populated by miners.

When the three arrive at this strange and desolate place they are initially energetic and keen. They have their team of huskies and even though it is challenging coping with the 24 hour daylight they manage well enough. Jack finds ALgie trivial and annoying but his friendship with Gus deepens. After a few weeks, Gus becomes very ill and appendicitis is suspected. He must be removed to the mainland and it is agreed that Algie will accompany him. Jack will be left alone, although it is hoped for no longer than two to three weeks. It soon becomes clear that this is unrealistic and Jack finds his situation increasingly difficult. This is especially so when the daylight gives way to constant night and the disturbance to his body clock begins to have mental repercussions. He begins to see and hear things. Jack is visited by a trapper who also lives in Spitsbergen, though far too distant to be any sort of regular companion. Jack welcomes the company, but the trapper tells him the story of what happened years previously in Gruhuken, when a man was killed. It is said that his ghost stalks the area. Jack wants not to believe the story and declines the trapper’s invitation to join him at his own settlement. Jack is determined that he will get through this period, and prove his worth to Gus.

The rest of the book is about Jack’s mental decline as he loses all sense of time and the physical isolation leads him to become increasingly fearful and desperate. He becomes close to one of the huskies in particular, but this is also indicative of a kind of decline in his essential human-ness. The weather deteriorates, equipment breaks, the physical environment begins to collapse. The degeneration of the fragile physical set-up is a metaphor for the mental and emotional breakdown.

What is so clever about this book, and with all really good ghost stories is that the author lets the reader decide whether there really is a ghost or whether it is a ‘phobic disorder’. Algie’s view is clear from the opening of the book.

This was a real page-turner and I loved the Arctic setting which is brilliantly evoked. Paver apparently has a deep affection for this part of the world but it is clear from the book that she is also aware of its treachery and its power.

I really enjoyed this book. Recommended.

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