There’s something about books set in the Antarctic that really appeal. I don’t know whether it’s the pristine environment, the abundant wildlife, the climatic conditions, the human isolation, desolation, horrific and courageous history and the potential all of this has as an incredible setting, but I find books that tackle all this hard to resist. My only condition, is these novels have to be really well written and maintain a pace as far from glacial as possible or, like the old huts and equipment left to rot down there, I forsake them…
Fortunately, Ann Turner’s Out of the Ice is a cracker of a read. Beautifully written, suspenseful, haunting and, at times, nail-biting, it tells the story of scientist, Laura Alvarado who, when the book opens is facing the end of her term at a remote Antarctic Station, that is, until she’s given a new role. Chosen to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment on a whaling station that was abandoned in the 1950s, she travels to the nearest outpost, a very male-dominated and British-owned station from which she must conduct her study.
From the moment she steps onto the British base, she finds herself marginalised and treated with hostility by the leaders. When she finally gets to the whaling station she’s to assess, something is amiss. If humans have been forbidden from this Norwegian outpost for decades, why are the penguins and seals so aggressive? And why is there evidence of both recent human habitation and interference?
When, after a dive into an underwater cave, Laura bears witness to strange and impossible things, she determines to get to the bottom of the mystery. Calling upon the help of colleagues and superiors from her former station, Laura dares to both question and investigate exactly what’s going on. But there are those who will stop at nothing, even murder, to keep their secrets from emerging out of the ice…
From Antarctica to Nantucket and Venice, the book is action-packed but without sacrificing lovely prose, superb descriptions of settings, or creating a wonderful back story for Laura and thus a hero that you champion. I also liked the ambivalence expressed around whaling (which I find utterly abhorrent); how we know it’s shocking, cruel and a complete travesty of which we should be ashamed, but historically, for those involved, it represented something different. Turner doesn’t steer away from presenting both sides and while some of the descriptions of what went on are gut-wrenchingly awful, that she didn’t steer away from depicting all sides is a credit to her – especially when it’s very clear on which side she stands.
My only slight misgivings were I thought Laura made some decisions and took some actions that didn’t seem to fit with her intellect and previous caution, that didn’t quite sit with her scientific mind and appeared narratively convenient rather than plausible. Likewise, I thought for a brief time the plot had gone off the rails, and I had to work a bit harder than I would of liked to suspend my disbelief. To my relief, it quickly found its firm feet again and the conclusion was gripping and heartfelt.
But these are simply small moments of disquiet in a book I found really hard to put down. In fact, I stayed up too late the night I started it and even read it while doing my morning exercise on a treadmill because I had to know how it ended.
A terrific read that I recommend for lovers of a good mystery, those interested in the Antarctic and what drives humans to do both great and terrible things.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to enjoy such a wonderful book.