Review by Kerry
Mcgregor opens his novel with violence. A polar storm of such force it terrifies. As a reader you are gripped by its fury, and anxious for the three-man survey team caught within its jaws. Routine safety procedures have been ignored; the men are separated. In the aftermath of the storm the enduring horror of those hours is revealed, a man has died and Doc, the leader of the team has suffered a stroke. Doc becomes the central character that we follow as he returns to England to begin his long rehabilitation journey.
Doc (the name given to him by colleagues on his first expedition) is an Antarctic veteran. He has spent his entire working life in its isolated stillness - an absent husband and father whose identity and sense of being has been forged by and on the ice. Now back home Doc has become Robert again and is struggling to come to terms with what happened and the loss of his ability to communicate. The landscape has changed but the isolation is deeper as Robert and his wife Anna have to learn how to be together and live their reshaped lives. I found McGregor’s writing of Anna moving. Her character doesn’t eclipse Robert but her struggle with her own loss of independence and role as carer added an intimacy and authenticity that held me as a reader.
In this remarkable novel the harshness of landscape serves to highlight the tenderness of love and friendship as McGregor juxtaposes courage with fear. The pared down prose reminding us of our need to communicate and satisfyingly returning us to the ice in his closing pages -
‘His body was leaning over to one side. He fell.’
‘He stood and he walked, and he fell.’
‘He waited, he stood’
‘It leaves the reader moved and subtly changed, as if she had become part of the story'
- Hilary Mantel
'So moving and delicate and terrifying and haunting'
- Maggie O'Farrell