Monday, March 20, 2017

Minds of Winter

Title:  Minds of Winter
Author:  Ed O'Loughlin
Publication Information:  Quercus. 2017. 500 pages.
ISBN:  1681442450 / 978-1681442457

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, a valuable marine chronometer sits on a workbench in London, crudely disguised as a Victorian carriage clock, more than 150 years after it was recorded as lost in the Arctic along with Sir John Franklin and his crew in one of the most famous disasters in the history of polar exploration."

Favorite Quote:  "You mourn your dead but you must go on living:  to do otherwise is impious."

John Franklin was a Naval officer, an explorer, and appointed lieutenant governor. In 1845, he took the helm of one more expedition. The goal was to chart a portion of the Northwest Passage in the arctic. This had never been done before. Two ships, the Erbus and the Terror, sailed forth. Neither returned. The ships became icebound along their journey. Ships and crew were both lost. Stories about the fate of the crew abound and range from succumbing to the elements to cannibalism.

Over the succeeding years, John Franklin's wife orchestrated numerous missions to determine the fate of the expedition and of her husband. Over a hundred years later, an artifact from the expedition thought to be lost turned up. How did it survive? Who did it survive with? How did it come to London? Who hid it in a disguise? The mystery has never been resolved.

The expedition, the mystery surrounding it, and the searches after have been captured in books, movies, and music. This book adds to that legacy.

Presumed lost in the arctic wilds, how did the chronometer end up disguised as a clock in Victorian England? I got lost in these voyages of polar exploration and the riddle of John Franklin's chronometer. The issue I have with the story is that it lacks an anchor. It jumps time periods, locations, and perspectives. At times, it seems more a collection of short stories linked together by the thread of this one expedition. That format indeed may have worked better but as a reader, I don't expect continuity between short stories as I do in a novel.

As short stories go, I enjoy some sections more than other. The opening of the book sets the stage for a story that is part adventure and part love story. The imagery of the ships done up for a dance, the sounds of the music, and the sights of gentleman and ladies conjures a lovely picture. The chapter sets up Sophia as the likely heroine of the story. Then, the chapter ends, and the book shifts. Sophia appears throughout the book, but more as a cameo in the middle of the stories of others. Her story feels unfinished.

The story in the current time frame is set around Nelson and Fay, each of whom have their own reasons for seeking the past. The plot, however, is all in the past. Nelson and Fay's story of the present gets lost in the past. It seems more a conduit to the history rather than developing into its own.

Perhaps, the most interesting of the stories was that of Ipiirviq aka Joe Ebierbing aka Eskimo Joe about half way through the book. This is a story of family, love, culture, adaptation, and exploitation. Although told from his perspective, this is as much his wife Taqulittuq's story. The descriptions of his "friends" putting him and his family on display in the Barnum "museum" are just heartbreaking. I could read an entire book based on their story, but this book shifts away on its path through history.

Having read the book and then researched the history, I did learn about the mystery of John Franklin's fatal expedition. Sadly, too many characters, too many plot lines, and a confusing timeline keep this from being the book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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