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Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir

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What do we stand to lose in a world without ice? A decade ago, novelist and short story writer Jean McNeil spent a year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and four months on the world’s most enigmatic continent — Antarctica. Access to the Antarctic remains largely reserved for scientists, and it is the only piece of earth that is nobody’s country. What do we stand to lose in a world without ice? A decade ago, novelist and short story writer Jean McNeil spent a year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and four months on the world’s most enigmatic continent — Antarctica. Access to the Antarctic remains largely reserved for scientists, and it is the only piece of earth that is nobody’s country. Ice Diaries is the story of McNeil’s years spent in ice, not only in the Antarctic but her subsequent travels to Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard, culminating in a strange event in Cape Town, South Africa, where she journeyed to make what was to be her final trip to the southernmost continent. In the spirit of the diaries of Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, McNeil mixes travelogue, popular science, and memoir to examine the history of our fascination with ice. In entering this world, McNeil unexpectedly finds herself confronting her own upbringing in the Maritimes, the lifelong effects of growing up in a cold place, and how the climates of childhood frame our emotional thermodynamics for life. Ice Diaries is a haunting story of the relationship between beauty and terror, loss and abandonment, transformation and triumph.


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What do we stand to lose in a world without ice? A decade ago, novelist and short story writer Jean McNeil spent a year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and four months on the world’s most enigmatic continent — Antarctica. Access to the Antarctic remains largely reserved for scientists, and it is the only piece of earth that is nobody’s country. What do we stand to lose in a world without ice? A decade ago, novelist and short story writer Jean McNeil spent a year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and four months on the world’s most enigmatic continent — Antarctica. Access to the Antarctic remains largely reserved for scientists, and it is the only piece of earth that is nobody’s country. Ice Diaries is the story of McNeil’s years spent in ice, not only in the Antarctic but her subsequent travels to Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard, culminating in a strange event in Cape Town, South Africa, where she journeyed to make what was to be her final trip to the southernmost continent. In the spirit of the diaries of Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, McNeil mixes travelogue, popular science, and memoir to examine the history of our fascination with ice. In entering this world, McNeil unexpectedly finds herself confronting her own upbringing in the Maritimes, the lifelong effects of growing up in a cold place, and how the climates of childhood frame our emotional thermodynamics for life. Ice Diaries is a haunting story of the relationship between beauty and terror, loss and abandonment, transformation and triumph.

30 review for Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I just love these meditative types of books and lately I have been attracted to books set in Alaska, the Arctic and the Antarctic. Such different places that are hard for me to imagine. Enjoyed that each chapter started with a description of a different type of ice, who knew there were so many. Also liked the clear and concise description of the differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic. The author meets so many interesting people, experiences so many different things, things that make her I just love these meditative types of books and lately I have been attracted to books set in Alaska, the Arctic and the Antarctic. Such different places that are hard for me to imagine. Enjoyed that each chapter started with a description of a different type of ice, who knew there were so many. Also liked the clear and concise description of the differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic. The author meets so many interesting people, experiences so many different things, things that make her ponder events and people in her own life. Took me to a place I will never visit except in books like these. ARC from Netgalley.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This book has everything I can ask for when I read a work of what I like to call creative non-fiction - she interweaves her own experiences (past and present) with conversations with people within those experiences and multifaceted research. The writing is vivid and brings me into her world of ice and cold. The way she captures isolation, the effect a landscape has on a person, the thoughts that go through your head when you are trapped at the bottom of the world - it is very powerful. If it wer This book has everything I can ask for when I read a work of what I like to call creative non-fiction - she interweaves her own experiences (past and present) with conversations with people within those experiences and multifaceted research. The writing is vivid and brings me into her world of ice and cold. The way she captures isolation, the effect a landscape has on a person, the thoughts that go through your head when you are trapped at the bottom of the world - it is very powerful. If it were not an advanced reader copy I'd be adding a bunch of quotes to this review to show what I mean. I received a review copy of this from the publisher with a very short window, so I had to move it above other books. But I will be sad to see it expire. This is a definite purchase for my cold-weather-island shelf at home, one I think I would dip into again to read about the cold. Perhaps it can replace Anna Karenina as my summer antidote book!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    You can feel it as you approach. Its presence is like that of nowhere else on Earth. The monumental self-absorption of the landmass acts like a cold vortex, pulling you in. But the allure of its independence, its lack of need, is so attractive. The Antarctic lives outside our narrative, like an extra planet moored at the bottom of the ocean. It does not belong to us. .....I will never come this way again. This book pulled me in like a vortex. The combination of the author’s memoir of her childh You can feel it as you approach. Its presence is like that of nowhere else on Earth. The monumental self-absorption of the landmass acts like a cold vortex, pulling you in. But the allure of its independence, its lack of need, is so attractive. The Antarctic lives outside our narrative, like an extra planet moored at the bottom of the ocean. It does not belong to us. .....I will never come this way again. This book pulled me in like a vortex. The combination of the author’s memoir of her childhood interspersed with her journey to and stay in the Antarctic works brilliantly and is mesmerising. I found her personal journey just as interesting as her description of life in the Antarctic and the people she met there. It’s perhaps a little bit self indulgent sometimes but what memoir isn’t? She describes the changing light and colour in the Antarctic at different times of the year and I could see its beauty in my mind’s eye. I found her ability to describe the landscape and the emotions it wrung from her very powerful. An easy 5 stars from me. If you’re as fascinated by the Antarctic as I am, this is an excellent read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    A disappointing conglomeration. The text oscillates between Antarctica and the author's childhood in coyly unnamed Canadian locales. I resented having to piece together clues and guess the Canadian locations. The Canadian sequences should have been interesting, but the lack of specificity and lack of relevance to Antarctica made them eventually unreadable. I started to skip them and once that happens a book is essentially doomed. Much of the Antarctica descriptions are beautifully done, but this A disappointing conglomeration. The text oscillates between Antarctica and the author's childhood in coyly unnamed Canadian locales. I resented having to piece together clues and guess the Canadian locations. The Canadian sequences should have been interesting, but the lack of specificity and lack of relevance to Antarctica made them eventually unreadable. I started to skip them and once that happens a book is essentially doomed. Much of the Antarctica descriptions are beautifully done, but this book as a whole just did not come together for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Walsh

    I found this a difficult book to evaluate. It is based on the author's 4 month stay In Antarctica ten years ago. She displays great poetic/literary talent in vivid descriptions of dazzling, changing colours on gleaming ice fields and ice bergs. I thought the book uneven and choppy in the transition of time, place and inner thoughts. There was some straightforward description of her time aboard ship and at the base, descriptions of the science of global warming she learned on her journey, and wa I found this a difficult book to evaluate. It is based on the author's 4 month stay In Antarctica ten years ago. She displays great poetic/literary talent in vivid descriptions of dazzling, changing colours on gleaming ice fields and ice bergs. I thought the book uneven and choppy in the transition of time, place and inner thoughts. There was some straightforward description of her time aboard ship and at the base, descriptions of the science of global warming she learned on her journey, and warnings of the danger this portends for the future. There is much introspection with memories of a drunken and violent family surroundings and impoverished life in Cape Breton. Later in what sounds like the Miramichi region she describes a killer stalking young women and encounters with her mysterious biological father. These passages are unclear and fragmented like a dream. The author describes herself as introverted and a loner. The narrative is full of melancholy. She feels, as writer in residence that she is out of place amongst scientists and the people are either younger and older than herself. She does build temporary friendships with a younger scientist who explains the science of ice, and an older pilot who teaches her to fly his plane. When these men leave the base she is depressed and subject to anxiety attacks. There are some hints of the supernatural. A fortune teller predicted before she planned her journey that she envisioned her among ice in a cold country. On her way to a second stay in Antarctica she suddenly abandons the project due to strong premonitions that her life is in danger. I would have preferred more description of the life and base and the workers there. I think most of the introspection and life story would make another book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Arja Salafranca

    “The trick about Antarctica is knowing when to leave ...” I’ve long been fascinated by the thought of visiting Antarctica, and in the absence of any possibility of visiting, at present, I have instead devoured books by those who have visited and lived on this vast icy continent. This book is easily one of the most memorable and evocative I have read – both a travel story as well as a personal memoir. Moving from her past growing up in Canada, to time spent in Antarctica as year as writer-in-resi “The trick about Antarctica is knowing when to leave ...” I’ve long been fascinated by the thought of visiting Antarctica, and in the absence of any possibility of visiting, at present, I have instead devoured books by those who have visited and lived on this vast icy continent. This book is easily one of the most memorable and evocative I have read – both a travel story as well as a personal memoir. Moving from her past growing up in Canada, to time spent in Antarctica as year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, Antarctic, Jean McNeil. It is about coming to terms and processing that past, as well as some of the changes that can occur in you the longer you spend in Antarctica, and McNeil unflinchingly describes her depression as darkness sets in before an Antarctic winter. But time is also running out as global warming heats up the earth, and this book is both a warning of environmental damage, as well as homage to that strange continent. The language is achingly beautiful, a meditative book to be savoured and returned to. “Some places do stay behind you. But others refuse to assume their rightful place on the linear timeline. These form islands in the river of time and in memory, persistent and opaque. There live people and events that happen over and over again, spiralling out beyond that which can be described as already experienced and so known; something about them is being worked on a timescale far grander than the moment, or our individual lives. They are the past, but the future also.” “The Antarctic is an addition, they say... The world will never look the same again, they say. By venturing into that vortex and the beguiling frozen underworld, even once, you risk becoming part of the strange fraternity of people obsessed with a void continent moored at the bottom of the world.”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cor T

    Jean McNeil had the unusual distinction of being selected to be a non-scientific “summerer” in the British Antarctic as a writer in residence. She used the experience to explore her inner conflicts and humanity’s conflict with climate change. In leaving civilized life behind and willingly entering into the Antarctic’s charisma, exposed to its lethality, we can know who we are. What it means to be human. Whether we are human. Whether we can survive on a planet we’re destroying. What we are destro Jean McNeil had the unusual distinction of being selected to be a non-scientific “summerer” in the British Antarctic as a writer in residence. She used the experience to explore her inner conflicts and humanity’s conflict with climate change. In leaving civilized life behind and willingly entering into the Antarctic’s charisma, exposed to its lethality, we can know who we are. What it means to be human. Whether we are human. Whether we can survive on a planet we’re destroying. What we are destroying. I feared it might be a polemic, but it was more of a musing, which I appreciated (I KNOW!! MY SELFISH HABITS MAKE CLIMATE CHANGE WORSE!!). The restrictions required in traveling “South” - staying on the Falkland Islands, spending weeks on a ship and months at the base, with only short adventures outside - reminded me of our constricted activities and lack of spontaneity in COVID-19: It wasn’t about only our physical confinement, or the fact that there was no only one way out, but that every day was mapped before it began. The predictability of who she would see, sit with, talk to, eat, and the amount of planning undertaken before leaving the base reminded me of the grind of endless work Zooms and grocery shopping expeditions in 2020. In some ways, it’s a book about writing a book, in that she’s constantly being asked and considering how to approach her open-ended assignment. She ends up cutting back and forth between a type of “witness statement” about the planet, a travel narrative of her journey and companions, and a memoir of surviving a difficult childhood in a cold place (nonspecifically, one of the Canadian Maritimes). She had associated the cold with her profoundly negative family experience, which disconnected her from relationships in general; whereas the collective endeavor and forced unbroken togetherness of traveling to an uninhabitable place connected her to a global fraternity. As she learns from the scientists around her of the necessary and life-preserving impacts of Antarctica's cold on the habitability of the planet, she sees that the only real option is for humans to adjust, change what we can, and set new expectations for how we live. The critical mistakes made by polar explorers is much discussed at the base; Shackleton is famously quoted following the failure of his expedition to the South Pole: “A man must shape himself to new mark directly the old one goes to ground.” The emission-cutting 'mark' humanity sets after creating climate change will ultimately determine how much of our planet becomes as uninhabitable as the seventh continent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Luyendyk

    I am an experienced Antarctic veteran. This is a memoir of an Antarctic experience by a newcomer. It is crammed full of rich prose. In the spirit of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, McNeil withholds no secrets. This kept me reading. Her descriptions of the landscape are unique and unexpected, like the Antarctic. Many times I read them and said "yeah, that’s how it is," or, "I’d never thought of it that way." She devotes a good portion of book to revealing the characters she became close to. They are con I am an experienced Antarctic veteran. This is a memoir of an Antarctic experience by a newcomer. It is crammed full of rich prose. In the spirit of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, McNeil withholds no secrets. This kept me reading. Her descriptions of the landscape are unique and unexpected, like the Antarctic. Many times I read them and said "yeah, that’s how it is," or, "I’d never thought of it that way." She devotes a good portion of book to revealing the characters she became close to. They are convincing in their own uniqueness. In a parallel story she shows the turmoil of her pubescent youth, and how she escaped it. Although compelling, I didn’t quite get the reason for this structure. It does show her strong character though, and makes you root for her. In the end she is telling the reader how the Antarctic changed her. Anyone who has been there under similar circumstances knows they’ve been changed, but most are not sure how. Her book joins the ranks of others that recounted visits to Antarctica by observers – not scientists and technical staff. I’m comparing this book to Antarctica by Gabrielle Walker, and Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler. Wheeler’s is the best, but McNeil ties with Walker. All these books reveal a place where nobody belongs and from where no one really leaves.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emmkay

    It took me some time to settle into this memoir/musing centred around the author's time as a writer-in-residence on a base in British Antarctica - it's slow-paced and contemplative (and somewhat too wordy) looping round and round the author's attempts to come to grips with the environment, its effect on her, and her eliptical interactions with others around her. But once settled, I found it absorbing and thought-provoking. Extraordinary place and well worth asking what it means to us. 3.5. It took me some time to settle into this memoir/musing centred around the author's time as a writer-in-residence on a base in British Antarctica - it's slow-paced and contemplative (and somewhat too wordy) looping round and round the author's attempts to come to grips with the environment, its effect on her, and her eliptical interactions with others around her. But once settled, I found it absorbing and thought-provoking. Extraordinary place and well worth asking what it means to us. 3.5.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen Thomson

    I got irritated by this book and this author. I couldn't follow her timeline getting to the Antarctic and couldn't follow the story from her past. I didn't particularly like her, or maybe it was that I just couldn't get to know her. She wrote about her crippling anxiety, but so dispassionately that it was dull. I also couldn't buy into the whole "I have a gift for predicting the future". I missed the point of that. I hope she's a better fiction writer than non-fiction writer. I got irritated by this book and this author. I couldn't follow her timeline getting to the Antarctic and couldn't follow the story from her past. I didn't particularly like her, or maybe it was that I just couldn't get to know her. She wrote about her crippling anxiety, but so dispassionately that it was dull. I also couldn't buy into the whole "I have a gift for predicting the future". I missed the point of that. I hope she's a better fiction writer than non-fiction writer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sima

    Reading through the list of Banff Book Festival Winners, this one was tough for me to get to and to finish. The beginning was confusing, because I wasn't aware that she had had the opportunity to go twice! I have always wanted to go to the Antarctic, especially on a research ship on someone else's dollar. I would happily take a science (I have a chemistry degree) or writer position. If only Canada bought the station that the Ukraine got. As a consolation prize I spend a fair amount of time in th Reading through the list of Banff Book Festival Winners, this one was tough for me to get to and to finish. The beginning was confusing, because I wasn't aware that she had had the opportunity to go twice! I have always wanted to go to the Antarctic, especially on a research ship on someone else's dollar. I would happily take a science (I have a chemistry degree) or writer position. If only Canada bought the station that the Ukraine got. As a consolation prize I spend a fair amount of time in the Yukon. The book felt like it needed another edit to harmonize the past and present. Spending time in the north has always been particularly healing for me, so I can appreciate her self reflection on a painful past within the context of her isolation, but it wasn't well integrated for the reader. Loki was a weird, rushed addition with little connection to the rest of the story. I realize that he reflected what she saw in her father, but the relationship or lack thereof needed more exposition or to be cut out entirely. On the other hand by knowing the challenges she faced as a child, I could understand how she acquired the skills to secure TWO highly competitive spots to the Antarctic. I just wished it flowed better. At the Banff festival they talked about her ice climbing experience that started in the Antarctic, which I patiently kept reading until I found it towards the end, though she had mentioned the training when they reached. I enjoyed her accounts of the young explorers/mountaineers coming from exotic trips to attend the preparatory meetings and was proud that the writer could also venture out into the unknown to use her new skills. I'm sure she surprised many people on her second trip with her knowledge of knots and equipment. The science portion was fairly routine and flowed well as part of the conversations, so I didn't pay much attention to it. The recollections of past poets and Antarctic explorers was also nicely integrated.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul Reynolds

    The journey by ship into Antarctica became an unerringly apt metaphor for my experience of reading the book. Initially it was exhilarating, opening windows into linguistic and literal vistas I could hardly imagine. The denseness of the writing and the author's self-professed tendency to "over-write" made reading slow but rewarding... ...until I realised that was the only gear she had. There was no let-up, no change of pace, if anything just an increasingly introspective narration with observation The journey by ship into Antarctica became an unerringly apt metaphor for my experience of reading the book. Initially it was exhilarating, opening windows into linguistic and literal vistas I could hardly imagine. The denseness of the writing and the author's self-professed tendency to "over-write" made reading slow but rewarding... ...until I realised that was the only gear she had. There was no let-up, no change of pace, if anything just an increasingly introspective narration with observations that turned into marathon cud-chewing exercises. Eventually the journey on the ship of this book encountered a loose ice floe and I got through to the other side not because I particularly wanted to get to the other side, nor because the journey was still invigorating, but because I felt having gone that far it would be rude not to. Interspersed throughout are episodes from the author's youth, which seemed moderately engaging but didn't to me serve any useful purpose in the book as a whole except to make this ostensible fiction seem slightly more about the author and slightly less about the world/Antarctica/people. McNeil seems entirely happy to over-think and articulate that excess on paper. I wish she wouldn't, because there are enough human and natural world observations and cogitations that I would want to read more of her, if only she wasn't so set on making it hard work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Girl

    It's a strange book. There are pieces of it that I enjoyed a lot (mostly those set in the Antarctic itself), but there is also a lot of quite unnecessary padding around them. I'm still not sure how it all comes together - for a long time, I had thought that the fragments set in a different typeface / not in the Antarctic came from the book McNeil was writing, but maybe it was a memoir of her teenage years? I think a straightforward diary of the Antarctic months would have been more enjoyable, ov It's a strange book. There are pieces of it that I enjoyed a lot (mostly those set in the Antarctic itself), but there is also a lot of quite unnecessary padding around them. I'm still not sure how it all comes together - for a long time, I had thought that the fragments set in a different typeface / not in the Antarctic came from the book McNeil was writing, but maybe it was a memoir of her teenage years? I think a straightforward diary of the Antarctic months would have been more enjoyable, overall.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Em

    Sorry, but when I read that the author already bought the newest issue of "London review of Books" before the journey, because she CORRECTLY assumed that it will not be available on the Antarctica ... OF COURSE it will not be available there. And what for?? And why would you assume such a thing? Because that is how we save the planet and the the Antarctica, right? By delivering - by plane - some stupid magazine to the other half of the Earth.Yup, that is how we are going to solve the issue. Why d Sorry, but when I read that the author already bought the newest issue of "London review of Books" before the journey, because she CORRECTLY assumed that it will not be available on the Antarctica ... OF COURSE it will not be available there. And what for?? And why would you assume such a thing? Because that is how we save the planet and the the Antarctica, right? By delivering - by plane - some stupid magazine to the other half of the Earth.Yup, that is how we are going to solve the issue. Why do you think the ice is melting? Exactly because we are afraid to go out of our comfort zone. I just cannot stand when people travel to the other part of the world but expect everything to be the same. So what is the point of travelling? The book has so far not convinced me that the author really understands the important of preserving Antarctica. Till now everything is about people! People this, people that, people shmat.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janita

    I am an Antarctic-tragic...can't get enough and my interest, curiosity, fascination is abiding and could possibly be verging on obsessive. I have faced the fact that it is VERY unlikely I will ever set foot on the continent. My personal library includes many books on the subject. This book however is the first one I have read from the point of view of an 'embedded' writer, whose sole purpose is to write from personal experience, over the course of the Antarctic summer. What a brainwave of an ide I am an Antarctic-tragic...can't get enough and my interest, curiosity, fascination is abiding and could possibly be verging on obsessive. I have faced the fact that it is VERY unlikely I will ever set foot on the continent. My personal library includes many books on the subject. This book however is the first one I have read from the point of view of an 'embedded' writer, whose sole purpose is to write from personal experience, over the course of the Antarctic summer. What a brainwave of an idea to do this! Finally, a spectacular landscape, an astronaut-like experience in an extreme environment and a skilled writer delivers this experience to the reader with deft subtlety. BLISS!! Can some clever person please keep this concept as an annual event? What about a skilled writer embedded over winter?? So much to love about this book...the scientific mind versus the literary mind...the author seems to be deeply unnerved by the emotional effect the isolation begins to take on her (and we gain insight into the creep effect of the Antarctic and imagine the same on ourselves). I can't say I found the final chapter of philosophising very readable or satisfying, but that's OK. I may need grit and reality but others may have found this epilogue type conclusion necessary. Also, the dream like sequences where the author slipped into personal musings about her childhood and fractured relationship with her father were both enjoyable reading (in any other setting), but annoying where all I wanted to hear and read about were the Antarctic. As well as the literary insight to the Antarctic, I enjoyed reading about the day to day practicalities...understanding what PNR means (Point of No Return), the tag system of keeping tabs on who is where and when at all times, the elite aura around the pilots, and the hide and seek game played by cruise ships visiting the Antarctic so as not to shatter the illusion of exclusivity were just some of the detail I enjoyed. This book will prompt me to look for and keep looking for other writers who are embedded in the Antarctic because the concept of sending a skilled writer and not a scientist to the Antarctic is something that surely must be a permanent part of every research station, so that the Antarctic itself can be more accessible to those who love it, but will never experience it for themselves.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Reggie

    With an intriguing topic, I looked forward to this voyage. The author is gifted and for that deserves two stars. But, her reminiscing about a cruel childhood establishes this is no "I'm going to the Antarctic!" travelogue. As the author continually veers into violent scenes from a childhood in Canada, I wondered if the trip was for me. I came for the icescape, the science, the challenging lifestyle, the walruses. I found sparse commentary about these subjects compared to the abuse flashbacks. Ms With an intriguing topic, I looked forward to this voyage. The author is gifted and for that deserves two stars. But, her reminiscing about a cruel childhood establishes this is no "I'm going to the Antarctic!" travelogue. As the author continually veers into violent scenes from a childhood in Canada, I wondered if the trip was for me. I came for the icescape, the science, the challenging lifestyle, the walruses. I found sparse commentary about these subjects compared to the abuse flashbacks. Ms. McNeil's diary entries might as well have said it was cold. Even recounts of relationships came across as halting and incomplete. Some distressing musing made me fear for her frail self. I admire the author for getting away from whatever backwater she inhabited as a child. She made an admirable life for herself despite the torture such childhoods brings to a lifetime. But I wanted out of the book more than in and skipped much gore. I surely missed some of her message. That brave reminiscing seems fit for another memoir and should come with a graphic warning. Too bad an editor did not counsel balance and direction for the book. So much work. So important. The melting Antarctic deserves "hair on fire" attention and focus.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bronwen Griffiths

    It took me a while to get into this book - it's a slow burn - or should I say - a slow thaw. My father was a scientist in the Antarctic in the late 50s and during the 60s so I had a particular interest in the book and it certainly grew on me as I read it. It's important that this is the Antarctic written from the point of view of a woman and a non-scientist. There are some lovely descriptions and I very much liked the way she showed the different types of (mostly) men who work out there. I wasn' It took me a while to get into this book - it's a slow burn - or should I say - a slow thaw. My father was a scientist in the Antarctic in the late 50s and during the 60s so I had a particular interest in the book and it certainly grew on me as I read it. It's important that this is the Antarctic written from the point of view of a woman and a non-scientist. There are some lovely descriptions and I very much liked the way she showed the different types of (mostly) men who work out there. I wasn't so sure about the 'interludes' which are about her life in Canada. Interesting as they were, I'm not sure they fitted in with the rest of the book. But if you are interested in ice, in the Antarctic and Climate Change then this is definitely one to read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fianna Whitman

    There are no words for how much I hate this book. Although the parts about what happens in Antarctica are interesting. That is not what the book is about. It is about the author talking about her horrific childhood, meeting her father for the first time when she was 17, how lonely and depressed she is and having anxiety and nightmares about being left behind on Antarctica. She is not an interesting person. She is whiny and pathetic. She doesn't really make friends so there is no real connection There are no words for how much I hate this book. Although the parts about what happens in Antarctica are interesting. That is not what the book is about. It is about the author talking about her horrific childhood, meeting her father for the first time when she was 17, how lonely and depressed she is and having anxiety and nightmares about being left behind on Antarctica. She is not an interesting person. She is whiny and pathetic. She doesn't really make friends so there is no real connection between her and the others on the base. She has short acquaintances with a couple of scientists and a pilot but she is essentially a boring character who whines and dwells on the negative throughout the book. I listened to it as an audiobook. The narrator made it even worse by speaking so slowly that I had to speed it up just to get a normal speaking voice. Everything about this book is boring.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    This felt like a very uneven book. On the one hand, the writing gets gorgeous and almost lush as McNeil attempts to convey the cold 'other' of Antarctica. Her philosophical musings are tangentially connected in a way that it feels like you're inside her head. On the other hand I found myself really annoyed by her remove in that there were constant musings on writing and how apart writers are from society (especially Antarctic) while scientists and pilots were portrayed like they know what they'r This felt like a very uneven book. On the one hand, the writing gets gorgeous and almost lush as McNeil attempts to convey the cold 'other' of Antarctica. Her philosophical musings are tangentially connected in a way that it feels like you're inside her head. On the other hand I found myself really annoyed by her remove in that there were constant musings on writing and how apart writers are from society (especially Antarctic) while scientists and pilots were portrayed like they know what they're doing which felt like an immature way of reading the situation in that it doesn't give other people credit for potential inner lives as rich or pained as her own.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian Glenn

    The 2016 Banff Grand Prize winner. This book is pensive, the writer quite brilliant, and the reader learns not just about life at an Antarctic research station, but also quite a bit about how think of open spaces and what they teach us about ourselves and the changing environment.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Yawn. I ploughed through a third of this book, but DNF.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    4.5 stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carl Compton

    Fascinating personal recollection of lengthy visit to the Antarctic interspersed with life as a young woman growing up in Canada's Maritimes. Well worth it. Fascinating personal recollection of lengthy visit to the Antarctic interspersed with life as a young woman growing up in Canada's Maritimes. Well worth it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Antarctica is probably my most favourite place to read about, but up to this point my reading has been largely confined to the books by/about the Antarctic explorers of the early 1900s (like Shackleton, Mawson, Scott, and Amundsen) and I was quite keen to read a contemporary take on the continent. So when I saw Jean McNeil’s Ice Diaries on NetGalley, it seemed like the perfect starting place. Ice Diaries goes beyond McNeil’s Antarctic experience and touches on her past as well, specifically the f Antarctica is probably my most favourite place to read about, but up to this point my reading has been largely confined to the books by/about the Antarctic explorers of the early 1900s (like Shackleton, Mawson, Scott, and Amundsen) and I was quite keen to read a contemporary take on the continent. So when I saw Jean McNeil’s Ice Diaries on NetGalley, it seemed like the perfect starting place. Ice Diaries goes beyond McNeil’s Antarctic experience and touches on her past as well, specifically the final years of her living in Nova Scotia during her late teens. While I had a preference for the Antarctic aspect of the book, I liked reading this other part as well as it gave me a bit more of an insight to the writer herself. These moments of her teenage years appear at the end of each chapter and read almost like a fictional mystery/thriller type book – there’s a murderer, the arrival of an estranged father, and some fairly horrible family experiences in general. These parts were dark in comparison to the brightness and perpetual daylight of the Antarctic summer experienced by McNeil. Like all stories of travellers to the Antarctic, it starts with the journey to get there. It’s much faster today than in it was in the time of the explorers, but it still, for McNeil at least, involved spending weeks on a ship to get there due to the scientific research that was undertaken en route. Reading about how much the loneliness of the continent impacted McNeil’s mental state was especially enlightening. Based on my past reading, I knew that the isolation of the place had literally driven men mad in the early days of exploration, but for some reason I assumed that this would be less likely to happen today as with modern technology, one would be able to communicate with the outside world much more easily; but you know what they say about assumption… I liked reading both aspects of this book – the darkness of McNeil’s earlier years in contrast with the brightness of the Antarctic. But at the time of reading it was difficult for me to connect the two threads of the story – they seemed like they wanted to meet but never quite did, making the whole thing feel disconnected and like there was something missing, in turn making the book a little difficult to read at times. On reflection, however, I can see a parallel between the two sections, namely the fact that in both McNeil’s life is disrupted and she is taken out of her comfort zone – in the first instance by the arrival of her estranged father in her teenage years, and in the second by the very fact that she left everything that she knew to go and live in one of the most isolated places on earth for four months. Along with that, she’s a complete outsider among the other residents, most of whom are scientists and who largely frown on her presence as, in the minds of many of them, she doesn’t seem to contribute anything by being there. This compounds her loneliness in the latter stages of her trip, thus impacting on her mental state; so as it turns out, even perpetual light has its dark points. The book is a combination of personal and scientific, and pretty much what I was hoping for. I got to see a different spin on a place I love to read about and I learnt a few things – like that the “largest iceberg in recent history…was 140km long and had a surface of 7,000 sq km — roughly the size of Belgium” – and naturally there was a little in there about the impacts of global warming. It was especially interesting to have an insight of what exactly modern scientists study when they’re in Antarctica and how they do it. But most importantly I got to spend a few hundred pages imagining myself staring out over a frozen landscape that on the surface appears desolate and lifeless, but which underneath has much to offer life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Afreen Aftab

    Rating: 3.5 ‘The inhumanness of the Antarctic is unfamiliar. Standing on the bridge with Stuart, I could already feel how helpless would be in that nullius, that place where absence and emptiness rule. It is a zone of poetic force, a seemingly colorless place but yet home to the most alluring chromatic phenomena on the planet. The only place in the world that is nobody’s country. A utopia, an apocryphal vision, a conundrum. A hoax.’ The reason I picked this book up was because I love that combinat Rating: 3.5 ‘The inhumanness of the Antarctic is unfamiliar. Standing on the bridge with Stuart, I could already feel how helpless would be in that nullius, that place where absence and emptiness rule. It is a zone of poetic force, a seemingly colorless place but yet home to the most alluring chromatic phenomena on the planet. The only place in the world that is nobody’s country. A utopia, an apocryphal vision, a conundrum. A hoax.’ The reason I picked this book up was because I love that combination of geography, history and science but from a writer’s perspective. This is why I have collections of national geographic magazines in my shelf. As a scientist myself, reading scientific occurrences from a writer’s POV is a fresh change from all the technical jargon and this book provides exactly that. But if you are looking for a purely scientific or a travel account, this is not for you. McNeil chronicles a lot of her life experiences growing up and the feelings she experienced living in the most inaccessible and remote continent on the planet. Although I feel that sometime McNeil was a little too repetitive with her descriptions of the continent. But then this is a memoir so I felt it was justified. The book is divided into three parts Part 1: This part describes the McNeil’s journey to the Antarctic via the Falklands; the troubles the ship had to face and the drastic change in scenery and lifestyle. There is also a large portion dedicated to the author’s personal life involving mainly her interactions with Max the brooding physicist; his cynical views contradicting her writer’s imagination and creativity. Part 2: The merry band of scientists, military personnel, technicians, engineers and writers finally reach the continent and have to now deal with the stark conditions. Part 3: McNeil describes her harrowing experience with depression and anxiety when left at the base with the last few people. Her description of how the feeling of isolation and impending danger sets in after the initial high of a settling into a new environment, was painful to read. She recounts how the situation allows her to come to terms with her repressed past. The book also talks in brief about climate change but from a mostly observer’s point of view rather than explaining for or against as the topic happens to be more complicated than most people know. Because there is an even scarier and undeniable truth: ‘The planet will survive just fine; it is humanity that is balanced on a knife edge of crop yields, food supply chains, and water and petroleum dependencies. It is humanity that has located its most powerful cities on dissolving coastlines’ She also mentions other literature regarding previous voyages to the Antarctic, especially Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, which was interesting to read. I especially loved the inclusion of definitions of various terms for ice at the beginning of each chapter. Frazil ice, Sastrugi etc. Some of the instances in the book were funny and optimistic: ‘Meanwhile the north end of the runway was still claimed by outraged mother Skuas who dive-bombed me. I ran with the shadows of these miniature pterodactyls swirling around my head, flailing my arms in a polar version of “The Birds”’. And some were hauntingly scary, like the case of pilots who lost control of their planes because their brains couldn’t differentiate between the white expanse of the land and the sky. All in all this was a varied and enjoyable read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gillian Sullivan

    Had to take this out of the library twice as I couldn't get through it the first time (too... much... ice.... I live in Eastern Ontario and winter takes up half the year, it feels like)... but then I couldn't get it out of my mind, so borrowed it again to read the second half. In the second half... so many glimpses of things that fascinate me (not related to ice): P. 235 (secrets beyond our human perception): "...suddenly I shot up into the highest layer of the atmosphere, and beyond, into space, Had to take this out of the library twice as I couldn't get through it the first time (too... much... ice.... I live in Eastern Ontario and winter takes up half the year, it feels like)... but then I couldn't get it out of my mind, so borrowed it again to read the second half. In the second half... so many glimpses of things that fascinate me (not related to ice): P. 235 (secrets beyond our human perception): "...suddenly I shot up into the highest layer of the atmosphere, and beyond, into space, from the starless Antarctic sky. Strange entities were there, huge and transparent. They knew what was happening, and what is supposed to happen, and what will happen. They knew everything. This journey took a moment, too fast for my brain to record. I knew only that a high-voltage current of knowledge had surged through my mind. And then it was gone." P. 240 (dear memories of flying in the high Arctic with my partner in a small Cessna over endless tundra): "... I can't really explain the raw serenity I felt. Tom felt the same ... 'You know, I never think of crashing,' he said .... 'I know,' I said, 'I feel it too.' That somehow we were protected." I remember feeling that I could happily crash and die, though we wouldn't somehow, at that time and in that place, suspended over the glorious landscape, with the curve of the earth highlighted by evening sun. P. 245 (wondrous notion of reincarnation): "I feel I will meet my father again in the future. By then I will be someone else, and he possibly will be too ... But we will know each other still our hearts will thud against our chests painfully, with a spasm of recognition. We will confuse what we feel with fear and we will want to hurt each other." P. 290: "In the Antarctic, for the first time in my life, I began to think such a universal mind might exist. I could feel it in the land. It felt neither malevolent nor benevolent, rather regally indifferent." P. 299 (explorer Shackleton had a "guardian angel" experience !): "I know that during the long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three." [Later, his companions confided the same thing.] P. 307 (life versus dreams versus other lives): "I begin to believe ... I am narrating my life from the dead, or beyond the grave. I believe I am alive, but am already in the next life. This life is the dream, and the dream I had about my father and the river [he let her drown] is real." It seems that it took intense exposure to ice and cold, and intense lack of exposure to outside stimuli, for all that to surface.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Margaryta

    Although the synopsis describes it as a memoir, but “Ice Diaries” is more than that, or at least it tries to be. Much more science and detail-heavy than promised, the book nonetheless strives to introduce the reader to the Antarctic lifestyle in all its vastness, both the exciting parts that deal with how people interact and the social lives they lead, to the more complex and at times frustrating, the descriptions of machinery or procedures and protocol. The book brings out the distinction betwe Although the synopsis describes it as a memoir, but “Ice Diaries” is more than that, or at least it tries to be. Much more science and detail-heavy than promised, the book nonetheless strives to introduce the reader to the Antarctic lifestyle in all its vastness, both the exciting parts that deal with how people interact and the social lives they lead, to the more complex and at times frustrating, the descriptions of machinery or procedures and protocol. The book brings out the distinction between the science-oriented and the humanities-oriented readers significantly, but does an admirable job at attempting to mediate between them, providing now only the author’s thoughts and personal background but also adding that realistic depth to the events. It is with the first aspect that the main problems with the book are tied to. The order and shifts in narrative aren’t the greatest. It took some time to realize that the “bookend” of each chapter was dealing with the author’s earlier life, describing her situation with her grandparents, her mother, and later the appearance of her father. It was a good attempt but not entirely a successful one, sticking out from the rest of the book in a way that made this earlier personal narrative feel more like a possibility for a separate memoir. It also felt like the enthusiasm and engagement of the author with her own writing. The pacing gradually gets choppier – the reader isn’t left with a way in which to evaluate her father, for instance. There is the sudden jumping around in time that occurs in the last 10% or so of the book, particularly with the brief introduction of the character of Loki. While it’s easy to understand the sentiments and how they relate to the theme of the Antarctic and ice, part such as the Loki memory stood out and made it difficult to evaluate the book as a whole. It was a much longer and slower read than I anticipated, and there were times when the attention span would rebel against me. Still, I got through it and enjoyed it as a whole, although I didn’t quite agree with the structuring. Nor did I think the impact of the narrative was as strong as it could’ve been. It’s a big positive that “Ice Diaries” isn’t a modern-day take on the old adventure logs that used to be kept by European explorers. But neither does it exactly live up to being that gripping and moving hybrid creature that it strove to be.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This review and more can be found at Book of Bogan This book surprised me at how charming I found it, although it took finishing the book, and taking some time to digest what I had just read for me to come to that realisation. I have read a number of biographies of Ernest Shackleton and other Antarctic explorers, including some of the works referred to in this book, and I guess I was expecting something more adventurous. Ice Diaries is the author's journey - nominally as a writer, although she spe This review and more can be found at Book of Bogan This book surprised me at how charming I found it, although it took finishing the book, and taking some time to digest what I had just read for me to come to that realisation. I have read a number of biographies of Ernest Shackleton and other Antarctic explorers, including some of the works referred to in this book, and I guess I was expecting something more adventurous. Ice Diaries is the author's journey - nominally as a writer, although she spends more time talking about not writing - to Antarctica as a writer-in-residence, where she spends a number of months as something of an outsider amidst the scientists, technicians, mechanics and others who share this lonely corner of the world. It is an almost spiritual journey, as a fair portion of the book is given over to memories of the past, including a good many regrets. I felt like she could get a little heavy handed at times with some of the philosophical aspects of the book, and every time she skipped away down memory lane (often without warning, at least in my copy) I was left wanting to find more information about the 'present' such as was being told at the time. I guess there are few great mysteries in the world left to explore, and even the great untamed continent at the bottom of the world has become increasingly accessible through the use of high-powered aircraft and ships. Even in this far away place there are still many of the comforts of home, and civilisation has taken root - to some degree, unless it's winter. The thrill of adventure came through in the writing when the author ventures outside that comfort zone of home and into the world outside the base, but it's a little bit too infrequent. An enjoyable read, and would be of interest to fans of memoir, and the romantic in us. Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ginni Brinkley

    ARC from NetGalley - thank you. Immediately after reading Ice Diaries, I felt it was a 3 star book, but I sat on the review for a while to give myself time to consider things a bit further. This was because it was rather different to the norm and I wanted to give it a chance to grow on me. Well, it did. I've amended it to 4 stars. Ice diaries is part memoir, part scientific stuff about ice, and part Jean's recounting of what must have been an unforgettable few months in the most forbidding landsc ARC from NetGalley - thank you. Immediately after reading Ice Diaries, I felt it was a 3 star book, but I sat on the review for a while to give myself time to consider things a bit further. This was because it was rather different to the norm and I wanted to give it a chance to grow on me. Well, it did. I've amended it to 4 stars. Ice diaries is part memoir, part scientific stuff about ice, and part Jean's recounting of what must have been an unforgettable few months in the most forbidding landscape on earth. As it was a galley copy, the moves from present to past were somewhat sudden and clumsy, but I'm sure in the published book that's been sorted, but the underlying narrative of Jean's difficult childhood and adolescence was engaging. The prose about Antarctica was fascinating, and the reason I requested Ice Diaries in the first place. I'm highly unlikely to ever go, so a vicarious report is the nearest I'm likely to get to seeing the gleaming vistas for myself. It felt like a deeply personal book, with an uncomfortable look into Jean's psyche, and held my attention all the way through.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Jones

    I have read a few books about travels to the Arctic, but never one about the Antarctic. When I heard about Ice Diaries, by Jean McNeil, a writer from Nova Scotia, who was selected to travel to the Antarctic with a British scientific team, I knew I had to give it a read. The book was very interesting but more eloquently written than I expected. At first I thought it would take away from the adventure of the story, but as I read on found, the eloquence actually added to it. McNeil not only tells the I have read a few books about travels to the Arctic, but never one about the Antarctic. When I heard about Ice Diaries, by Jean McNeil, a writer from Nova Scotia, who was selected to travel to the Antarctic with a British scientific team, I knew I had to give it a read. The book was very interesting but more eloquently written than I expected. At first I thought it would take away from the adventure of the story, but as I read on found, the eloquence actually added to it. McNeil not only tells the story of being in the Antarctic, but of the voyage and the personalities involved getting there. In most chapters she also tells the story of her growing up in poverty and abuse in Cape Breton. I was wondering how this related to her trip to the Antarctic, but it all ties together in the end. There are many types of ice. Who knew! Each chapter starts off with the name and description of an ice type. The pictures are so breathtaking. Just for that reason, I wish that I had read Ice Diaries in book form rather than on a Kobo. Part travel diary, part biography, part a study on global warming, part adventure, Ice Diaries is a book worth reading.

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