Friday, 4 December 2009

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss

Cold Earth was a random library pick, it was just there on the library bookshelves and the cover looked attractive. Shouldn't judge a book by its cover, I know, but I did read the blurb too, before I took it home! It's the story of six people who go on an archaeological dig in Iceland to try and discover the fate of the ancient Icelanders who lived there. Five of them are archaeologists, but one, Nina, is a literary student, and friend of the expedition leader, who is just kind of along for the ride!

The story is told through the characters own narratives, the first of these, and by far the largest portion of the book being Nina's narrative. Nina is a strange character, present on the dig for her own personal reasons, to get some time away, although totally prepared to work (although refuses to touch any human remains,which I would have thought was pretty central to discovering the fate of a race of people)! We are told early on that she has previously suffered from some mental health issues, and it is not long before she is seeing and hearing things in the night, which she is convinced are the ghosts of the Icelanders objecting to their graves being desecrated. This, and her obsession with the poor quality of the food provided by Yianni (the group organiser), soon puts her at odds with all the other team members.

As we hear from the other members of the group in turn, it becomes clear that although the rest of them share an interest in archeology, they are conflicting characters in other ways, and that they are all present in Iceland for very different reasons. Personal conflicts arise, but these are overshadowed by a much bigger issue, that of isolation and issues in the outside world. Fairly early on in Nina's narrative, we are made aware that there appears to be a mystery virus sweeping the world, which the group are keen to keep updated on, via the laptop and satellite connection available to them. The news gets constantly worse as the time progresses, and then as the connection is lost, the group start to panic more and more that the world is devastated and they will never get home.

The feeling of desperation comes across in the narratives of the other members of the group. As each person has their say, the narratives get shorter and shorter and more urgent. All the narratives are written as letters home, but as their situation worsens, the letters become more like last letters, and less hopeful and more desperate. How and if the situation is eventually resolved is something you'll have to read the book to find out, but I'll just say that I thought it was a bit of a quick finish.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought the format of individual letters was a brilliant way to tell a story, and seeing the relationships between characters through their own perspectives and each other's was really interesting. It was also interesting to see the attitudes towards Nina's conviction that there are supernatural elements at present on the island from the other group members develop and how the different characters justified it to themselves. And just generally seeing the relationships between them deteriorate as their situation worsens, and their very different attitudes to the situation they find themselves in. Some were immediately negative, some more positive, but they definitely come across as a cross section of society in their reactions, which I'm sure was intentional.

1 comment:

The Reader said...

Sounds good, reminds me a bit of 28 days later.

The Reader
I'm a Bookworm