The Ice by Laline Paull

The root of all evil…

😦

It’s the very near future, global warming continues to advance and the Arctic sea-ice has largely melted. A cruise ship has promised its passengers sightings of polar bears, now even rarer than before. Eventually the wealthy and powerful passengers begin to put pressure on the captain, so the ship takes a detour into an area of the sea that’s off limits to cruises. There they finally see a bear, but when an iceberg calves in front of them, they see something else – a preserved body that pops out from the frozen ice. Tom Harding was an environmentalist, lost as a result of an accident three years earlier. Now the investigation into his death will be re-opened and his business partner, Sean Cawson, will have to relive that terrible moment…

At least, I had to assume it was a terrible moment, based on Sean’s general level of angst. Unfortunately, this is yet another of the books that works to the overused formula of past and present sections, where all the characters know what happened that day, but the reader isn’t told until the book is more than half over. (I feel I may have mentioned before (!) how annoying I find this formula of keeping the reader in the dark for excessive periods in a futile attempt to build suspense. Real suspense comes only when at least some of the characters are also in the dark – otherwise it’s just an author playing tricks on the reader. In this one, it would have been perfectly possible to tell us up front what happened to Tom, and then build the suspense over the questions of how and why it happened, which most of the characters didn’t already know.)

The beginning is very good with some nice descriptions of the changes to the Arctic landscape and the calving of the iceberg is excellently dramatic. The description of the passengers demanding bear is also done well, though it’s the first indicator of the fairly overt polemical stance the author has taken – capitalists bad, destroy land and wildlife: environmentalists good and noble, fighting the good fight. Actually I sort of agree with at least bits of that, though I don’t think the question is quite so black and white, but frankly I neither need nor want to have messages hammered at me – subtlety makes for more interesting storytelling, and when the author makes it so clear that only one side of the debate has any merit, then it hardly leaves much room for thought to be provoked.

Sean has bought a property in the Arctic and turned it into an exclusive retreat where mega-rich businessmen can relax or meet each other privately. But Sean has an underlying motive – he wants to take the opportunity of getting these capitalists to understand the damage they’re doing and convert them to support environmentalism. (Hmm!) So he has asked his old friend Tom, a noted environmentalist, to join him in the venture. But Tom doesn’t know that Sean has agreed to keep a kind of private army on the property on behalf of the British and Danish governments, for reasons that I found vague and unconvincing.

Laline Paull

I’m afraid I found the book dull, the writing flat in places though good in others, the story overly contrived, the suspense entirely missing. The environmental messages are too overt and overly simplistic. Nothing happens for huge swathes, except Sean agonising over what happened that day while managing to not actually tell us. There are little snippets at the beginning of each chapter – extracts from real Arctic explorers which have nothing to do with the story. I quite quickly stopped reading them. In an attempt to evoke an emotional response, I assume, Paull throws in lots of little things like polar bears being killed, or whales being eaten, but always with a little message about conservation or environmentalism tagged on so that it ceases to feel real and just becomes part of the message-hammering, and thus left me entirely unmoved.

By a third of the way through I really wanted to abandon it, and by two-thirds I couldn’t take any more. The major problem was that I simply didn’t care what happened that day any more – the moment had passed. So I abandoned it, flicked forward and discovered that once I finally knew where it was going, sadly, I still didn’t care. I did enjoy some of the writing and feel that the author has potential if in future books she can manage to deliver her message more subtly and find a better way to create real suspense. But, since I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, then 1-star it is.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

35 thoughts on “The Ice by Laline Paull

  1. Oh, too bad. When an author strings you along for a big secret reveal at the end it is almost always disappointing! And I think I’d feel the same about all those environmental messages (even though I would probably agree with most of them).
    I do like the idea of a book about the melting ice caps, set in the near future… maybe someone else will take a shot at it!

    • It’s partly me – I’m so tired of these books that are full of references to some past event but won’t tell you what it was. And equally tired of the recent trend for authors to use fiction novels as a soapbox! I do like a political theme but it has to be subtle, not take over from the story… oops, sorry, I shall get off my own soapbox now! 😉

  2. You know, FictionFan, I see potential in the premise. But if the writing’s dull, the suspense contrived, and so on, then there’s no motivation to finish the book. Pity, too, because as I say, I found the premise interesting.

    • I thought it sounded interesting too, but sadly the execution just didn’t do it for me. I do like a political theme in a book, but it has to not take over from the basic story – and I really prefer it if an author leaves some room for me to make up my own mind about things, if you know what I mean. Oh, well!

  3. Oh wow. I thought this book would be better than it turned out to be since the premise was intriguing. Sigh. I guess you can’t judge a book by the cover or the premise. 😦

    • I know – I thought it sounded interesting too, and the basic idea still is. Unfortunately, for me, the story just wasn’t told well enough so that it seemed to be more “message” than plot, if you know what I mean. Oh, well, I’m sure she’ll get better at it with experience…

  4. This is a really fair review. It sounds like the author needed a better editor, someone to point out her messaging is a little over the top! I’m like you, I’m all for environmentalism but things are never black and white!

    • Thank you! Yes, it is lazy. And so often just requires a bit of thought. In this case, the perspective she chose was the one person who knew more or less everything, so it was incredibly annoying when he wouldn’t just tell us!

  5. Oh, shame, I was looking forward to reading this one, because I love icy climates and a bit of a murder mystery. I never read The Bees, so I thought I’d make up for it.

    • That’s why I went for it too, but I’m regretting now not reading The Bees instead. Though this one is picking up plenty of positive reviews, so hopefully it’ll work better for you than it did for me… 🙂

  6. Oh dear!! I agree with you on the hammering home of a one-sided arguments – a pet hate of mine and like you, it doesn’t necessarily matter which side of the argument I stand. A great review even though I was waiting for your latest TBR count 😉

    • Yes, I know lots of authors have a “message” but some are better at showing both sides or working it into the plot a bit more subtly. Oh well! Haha! The TBR wasn’t looking too bad this morning, but that was before the postman arrived… 😉

    • I’m finding it harder to push through dull bits these days – too many books on the TBR I’d really like to read, I think. But loads of people seem to be liking this one more than me, so don’t let me put you off completely. 🙂

  7. Regardless of the book being written in first- or limited third-person point of view, the character would THINK about what happened. It’s not exactly easy to censor one’s thoughts. Perhaps that’s why this form of storytelling bothers you; it’s so unrealistic and angsty.

    • Yes, exactly! So you end up with all kinds of clumsiness in order to not have the narrator reveal the big secret. Why pick the person who knows everything as your narrator? It would have worked so much better from any other angle…

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