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Summer Reading

There was a debate or a discussion a couple of summers ago where people became irritated with the idea of a beach book. Rather like an airport book these were considered light weight, throw away, books that somehow didn’t count. Certainly in my book group we sometimes say, that’s a book for long winter evenings. And there are also comments such as, don’t feel I can tackle anything heavy in all senses of the word in the summer. Whether it is summer or winter I have a slightly odd love of books that have cold chilly settings:

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg

A thriller where the police refuse to consider a child’s death anything but an accident but Smilla believes there is something about the footprints that shows that the boy was chased off the roof. She is an isolated figure but she is determined and her investigations lead her to decades-old conspiracies in Copenhagen, and then to a voyage on an icebreaker ship to a remote island off the Greenlandic coast, where the truth is finally discovered.


Skating to Antarctica, Jenny Diski

‘Skating to Antarctica’ is a mix of a memoir of a unhappy childhood and the disintegration of her family, a con man father, a depressive mother, a London of cramped flats where she was used by them both as they circled and snarled. Her strange eccentric expedition into ice floes, frozen seas, forbidding glaciers is something that allows her to chip away at a dark and frozen personal history.


Under a Pole Star, Steph Penney

The book is made up of a series of flashbacks starting with Flora’s childhood voyages with her whaleboat-captain father to Greenland, where she made lifelong friendships with the local Inuit and learned their language. As an adult she studies meteorology in London so she can return to the Arctic. And in New York we see her future lover, Jakob de Beyn, who has hopes and dreams and ambitions for the same set of stars – which with ominous foreboding include what the Inuit call Sikuliaqsiujuittuq, The Murdered Man.

Penney’s diligent research emphasises the story’s backdrop at the expense of its emotional core, it is in the masterfully evoked Arctic landscape and in her depictions of sex that she finds her true, dazzling stride. The Guardian review and I must agree!

In the Isabella of Angoulême trilogy I do write about the weather as it affected so much in the 13th century, harvests, travel, military campaigns, and survival of whole communities. Imagining this part of France with its many rivers, its deeply wooded countryside and not many roads and certainly no hard surfaces brings home the importance of the weather. Here is a snippet from Part 3.

The harsh March winds had blown all month but finally they stopped. The Lusignan gardeners shook their heads over the battered blossom in the orchard and warned of a poor picking in the autumn. The rain that had been driving hard at the castle walls ceased. The meadows by the river had flooded. The April sun shone weak and watery, very welcome for all who had been mewed up in the castle for weeks on end.

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