Canada Reads 2008: Icefields by Thomas Wharton
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 6:18 pm on Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“During an expedition to the Arcturus glacier in 1898, British doctor Edward Byrne falls into a crevasse and spies something magical in the ice. While convalescing in the remote settlement of Jasper, he begins to grasp that the mysteries of this landscape are mirrored in its unusual inhabitants.

In his travels, Dr. Bryne uncovers near-mythical tales about the area and meets other eccentrics caught up in their own quests. He also becomes enamoured with Elspeth, a woman who shares his obsession with the things that lie hidden in the ice.

Told through a mixture of journal entries, clippings, scientific notes and letters, the novel blends history with fiction to tell a dazzling story of a singular place and time.

Icefields won numerous awards after its 1995 publication, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, Canada and the Caribbean; the Henry Kriesel Award for Best First Book; the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Best First Book Award; and Grand Prize for Best Book Overall at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for Icefields
the official site of Jasper National Park
about the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier

My thoughts:
I enjoyed this book. I really liked the way the glacier worked its way into the psyche of Byrne and prompted him to come back to Jasper. It was as if he was compelled to integrate the glacier, the landscape, within his own understanding of himself. I did find the characters a little shallow — like all we’re getting is the surface, no substance, however. I wasn’t sure what to make of the ice angel — obviously something was there for Trask to see, but what? I also found the unconventional punctuation to be rather contrived and unnecessary, just drawing attention to itself for no reason.

I liked Pooker3’s description of the language (seems to sum that up pretty well): “As I was reading this, I was conscious of the simple sentences, short paragraphs and chapters; crisp language; spare and precise dialogue and I decided this must be deliberate by the author – meant to convey the simplicity of a snow covered landscape, the crispness of the cold, ice crystals and fragments, short breaths in the lung-freezing air making long winded conversation unwise if not impossible, one’s words being swept away with the wind, the need to not waste one’s energy, the cracking of trees in the cold, icicles dripping in the sun, the creep of the glacier, blah, blah, blah.”

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