Monday, 4 January 2010

Review: The ice child (Elizabeth McGregor)

Jo Harper, a successful young journalist, has only her adored two-year-old son, Sam, to remind her of her late partner. When Sam falls ill, there is only one silm hope — that his half-brother may hold the key to his survival. But his half-brother has disappeared...[having] set out alone against impossible uncover the last traces of the Franklin expedition, which vanished in the Arctic in 1847 while searching for the North-west Passage.

Thus reads the blurb of The ice child, plus a little bit that I haven't printed here as I think it spoils the plot too much. Honestly, even the above blurb spoils the plot, because for the first half of the book Jo doesn't have a late partner, let alone a two-year-old son.

I found the narrative style of this book unusual, as it follows three main plot arcs. There's a mother polar bear with her cub; a based-on-the-true-story Franklin expedition (which I found incredibly sad because you're told, before you even get introduced to the characters, that they all die); and Jo Harper, main character and mother-to-be of dying child.

I didn't like the book initially, which becomes, at times, bogged down in details to the point of boring me; I skim-read a fair few sections at the beginning.

Author Elizabeth McGregor's casual narrative approach to timelines completely confused me at times. On one page, we're told that Jo enjoys her garden; then we're taken back to when her son was born; then we're shown her cutting grass at eight months pregnant; and in the next sentence the author describes a scene where Jo sits with her son in her arms. Seriously, what? There was no transition at all between any of the timeline-hopping; I had to re-read that page twice.

But after the first half of the novel, I became a lot more drawn in. I found the part showing the Franklin expedition both fascinating and thoroughly depressing. I wasn't enthralled with all of the characters, and found some (modern-day) characters' behaviours to be utterly unlikely; but the Franklin expedition was much more moving, much sadder, much more heroic and human and ultimately futile.

That isn't to say that the modern-day story wasn't touching; it was, and I couldn't put the book down towards the end for wanting to know whether the little boy survived (it's not the kind of book that guarantees any happy endings); but since the Franklin storyline showed real characters and what happened to them (to some degree), I found it so much more moving.

I can't say I enjoyed this book, in the end. Not because it was bad; because I just found it all so depressing. I think the depression was intensified by having three (or, at the end, four) interwoven storylines, none of which showed any sign of having a happy ending.

All in all, while it was difficult to get into, I'm glad I read this book. The author's note at the end added some more interesting details about the Franklin expedition, and highlighted some of the true and some of the fictional elements of her plot; and while I found the modern-day story less realistic, both storylines were still absorbing. But don't read this book if you're having a bad day; I don't think it'll help.

1 comment:

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