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Polar Book Group: Mills and Boon at the Poles

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

As well as non-fiction works, the Polar Library also has a fairly extensive collection of fiction based in or about the Polar Regions. While predominantly of the adventure or thriller genres, there is a surprising amount of romantic fiction written about the Polar Regions. Among these items, 3 particular books stand out – they are 3 stories from Mills & Boon set in various cold parts of the world.

Mills & Boon has published many stories since its beginnings in 1908 – at first a more general publisher, it started targeting its marketing at female readers and the publisher today is known as one of the leading lights in romantic fiction. The stories cover a variety of settings and situations, from historical romance, to the paranormal, to relationships between medical professionals. In the early 80s this also extended to the cold areas of the world.

Frozen_Heart Arctic_Enemy Northern_Magic

In Frozen Heart (first published 1980), New Zealand Journalist Kerin manages to be included in a trip to the Antarctic, ostensibly as Information Officer but actually to act as an undercover psychological observer. However, the base commander, Dain Ransome, is someone she previously inadvertently snubbed and who has certain ideas about a woman’s place in Antarctica. Tensions run high through various events, including a night alone in a blizzard and a long Antarctic night…

Arctic Enemy (first published 1981) sees Canadian journalist Sarah Grey take part in the maiden voyage of a ship newly built and designed to sail the dangerous Arctic waters. While the ship’s owner Tony Freeland is nothing but charming, she finds herself irritated by yet drawn to his cousin, Guy Court, partner in Freeland’s firm and a harsh uncompromising Safety Inspector. Tensions run high through various events, including a trip into the Arctic ice, a night in a blizzard and a storm in an iceberg filled sea…

Finally, in Northern Magic (first published 1982) Shannon Hayes flies to Anchorage, Alaska to join her fiancé Rick. However, when she arrives, Rick is nowhere to be found and his apparent new employer, Cody Steele, doesn’t know anything of Rick’s whereabouts. He does try to help her find him however and tensions run high through various events including a night in an Alaskan cabin and a perilous flight in the Far North…

As you may have gathered from the above descriptions, the stories portrayed in these books are very similar in terms of plot and characters – it is possible to trace certain common traits between the beautiful female leads and their tall, dark (mostly) and handsome counterparts. However, in each case, the author demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the chosen region: knowing the perils of frostbite and concussion, how polar explorers survive in a blizzard, what causes the Northern Lights and so on. While they aren’t the epic stories of explorers of old, they do give us a little insight into what daily life in these situations is like.

Martin

Polar Book Group: Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Smilla

 

 

 

 

 

A little while ago, our Curator, Charlotte, asked for suggestions for Polar-themed reading. The response was both enthusiastic and eclectic, and covered everything from fiction to science, and from cultural history to biographies.

This has inspired some of us to write about some favourite Polar books, and we’ll be posting about them here over the next few months – our own Polar book group! The first post comes from the SPRI Librarian, Peter Lund, and is about a novel that he first read over 20 years ago: Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

If you would like to contribute a blog post or review about your favourite Polar book, please e-mail us at museum@spri.cam.ac.uk – we’d love to see them!

 

It was, I think, December 1993 when I walked into Waterstone’s in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and first picked up Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.  Forever settling down to read it in the midst of Christmas family get-togethers intrigued my family and friends – what makes this novel so compelling?

You get the chilling sense of atmosphere as well as a hint of Smilla’s displacement from Greenland from the opening lines:

“IT IS FREEZING, an extraordinary -180C, and it’s snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik – big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.”

Touch the language, breathe the description, then meet the bloody-minded, committed heroine, Smilla Jaspersen who engages you with her grit, panache and a style which is all her own. In the book’s first City-set section we are quickly drawn into her isolated existence, a Greenlander adrift in Copenhagen. The mystery of the death of Isaiah, a boy she befriended, son of her neighbour in her block of apartments is unveiled. We understand her need to investigate his seemingly accidental death, and her distrust of the authorities. During subsequent locations at Sea and on the Ice the mystery is cleverly developed, creating a masterpiece and the novel succeeds handsomely as a thriller.

Julia Ormond as Miss Smilla in the 1997 film adaptation Smilla's Sense of Snow.

Julia Ormond as Miss Smilla in the 1997 film adaptation Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

But what brings me to re-read Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow is much more than Nordic noir. I loved reliving the evocative description of place – be it Copenhagen at night, the base at Thule in Greenland or the glacial sense of ice and snow. I delighted in the many incidental scenes – how Smilla recognises a Volvo car shadowing her, her penchant for reading Euclid’s Elements to Isaiah, falling in love, her latent expertise in the physics of snow and ice. There’s the author’s casual, yet confident, grasp of technical details; Smilla doesn’t recognise any old rope, it’s:  “8mm Kernmantle double rope in bright alpine safety colours – a friend from the ice cap”.   Then there are the ironic throwaway lines at the end of some chapters bringing a sharp sense of humour. There’s so much to delight in reading and re-reading Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

In North Greenland distances are measured in siniks, by ‘sleeps’, the number of nights that a journey requires. It’s been many siniks since I first read Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow: it’s been wonderful to rediscover this novel in the Scott Polar Research Institute Library.

Peter