Book Review – The Ice by Laline Paull

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Bees by Laline Paull was one of my favourite reads way back in 2015. It was a little rough around the edges but it was an unforgettable reading experience. I was so excited to read it that I rushed out to buy her follow-up novel as soon as it was released. Of course, it was published 6 years ago and I’ve only just got around to reading it. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering how I normally am. I’ve had books on my shelves for longer than that. This time, I did actually try to read it earlier. I think I opened it not long after I bought it but it just didn’t grip me. I couldn’t face pushing on with it, so forgot about it. Until a few years ago when I bought the audiobook to encourage me to finally read it. Although, my initial attempt left me worried. Until last week when I decided to just go for it. Listening to it at work might actually help me finish it. If it turned out badly, I could at least let it wash over me as I went about my normal working day.

This book has the kind of premise that can’t help but draw you in. A body is discovered in the arctic thanks to global warming melting the ice caps. This book was clearly going to have plenty of mystery and environmental discussion. Set in the near future, the consequences of climate change are clear in the Arctic. Now that so much of the ice has melted, cruises set out with the promise of spotting polar bears. One such cruise goes to great lengths to get a glimpse after the passengers start threatening legal action. Not only do they briefly see the predator but they unearth something unexpected. The body of Tom Harding is washed up following his death in an accident 3 years previously. It’s a discovery that causes a great deal of emotional turmoil for his family and friends. Particularly his best friend, Sean Cawson, who just happened to be the last person to see him alive. With the inquest into his death beginning, the pair’s personal and professional lives are going to be put under a great deal of scrutiny. Sean’s life begins to unravel and he finds it increasingly difficult to keep things together. Will he make it through the inquest in one piece?

First and foremost, The Ice is concerned with climate change and what it has done to our planet. Considering what the underlying message of The Bees was, this is hardly surprising and the environmental message is successful here. Laline Paull has done a lot of research and is clearly passionate about her subject. It’s a little clumsy in places but the message is there. The coroner’s inquiry into Tom’s death becomes a chance to voice the different sides of the story. This isn’t just the story of global warming but of corruption and dirty dealings. It’s an environmental story mixed with a political thriller. The Ice wants to attribute blame and show the consequences of climate change. Something that it does very well and very obviously. If Laline Paull’s main aim was to get her message across then The Ice has been very successful. It’s a bleak read but it is dealing with a bleak subject.

The issue that I have with the book is the story itself. What The Bees did really well was tell an engaging and interesting story as well as preach about the environment. I don’t think The Ice works quite so well as a piece of fiction as her previous work. I didn’t really find myself connected to the characters or the mystery of Tom’s death. It really is hard to care about how a man dies when you don’t really get a sense of who he is. Yes, he’s a member of Greenpeace but that’s not enough to make me really care about him. It doesn’t help that the narrative often verges into Hollywood territory. Sometimes, it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief that one event could happen at the perfect time and in the perfect way to mirror the tensions between each character. It just feels too neat. Too coincidental. Too choreographed to feel real. It’s not a huge problem but it did mean I wasn’t as connected to the story as I should have been.

As a work of fiction, The Ice doesn’t really get going until just before the end. The pacing and excitement of the last part of the book are amazing and I wish the rest of the story could have followed this pattern. Instead, the rest just feels a bit slow and over-the-top. All of it meant that I just didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected to. I think there is a fantastic amount of potential here and the overall message is worthy. I just wish that I had cared more.

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