Archive for September, 2009

Cold Earth gets a warm reception

The Berwick Book group is a year old this month! Time’s flown – as it always does when you have your nose in a good book.
The September meeting got the autumn season off to a great start, according to Ann, who very kindly facilitated the group because I was still away on holiday. (Yes, I did read the book! It took quite a leap of imagination to feel the Greenland cold while lounging about in the Florida temperatures of around 100 degrees – but all credit to the author for doing such a good job in describing the landscape and conditions).
It makes sense to reproduce Ann’s report on how the group went – so here goes:
“It was a really interesting discussion. We all found Cold Earth an intriguing read and there was plenty of speculation about themes, motives and the psychological journeys of the characters.

Margaret can’t abide ghost stories, so she was pleased when the plot took a turn into psychological territory- but there was enough of a ghost story element also to please those of us who relish a good scare. Margaret also liked the food passages. Janet appreciated the coherence of the story and the clarity of the plot. Mike was the least impressed with the book. He felt that there was a good concept there but that the execution failed to deliver. We thought the characters were very well drawn – particularly Ruth and her pain – but that the author had created a bit of a rod for her own back by writing exclusively in the form of letters home. She just about got away with it, we felt, because the characters were academics and therefore, presumably, adept and expressive writers. We all thought the characters’ ‘voices’ weren’t different enough, however, in their speech patterns etcetera. There was much discussion about what was real and what was illusion. Maisie used the example of the soapstone chess piece – and we realised that everything could be explained logically, without Nina’s dreams. Paula in particular felt that the ending was only in Nina’s mind and that there was a good chance she was hallucinating the happy return home as she lay dying in her tent! We all enjoyed the lyrically horrific passages describing what had happened to the original Greenlanders. Jill had only read the first 30 pages but she enjoyed listening to the discussion – and she was very struck by the characters having to swallow their toothpaste! She said she would have to take a small bottle with her to spit into and then take it away with her. Other discussion subjects included Yianni and his hidden violence – how he turned out to be the most damaged and rigid, yet fragile, character in the end, whereas Nina turned out to be rather tough and maybe the most humane. We relished the irony of Yianni’s mother having his ashes scattered on the dig site when he had been so resolute about leaving nothing behind. We discussed whether the book was too short to explore both the initial ghost story and then the psychological drama, as they realised they were on their own and would probably die there. Survival tactics (or their lack of them!), the very convincing depiction of the bone-numbing cold and the growing hunger, landscape as character, the common humanity reaching across the centuries, why the ‘ghosts’ stopped appearing, were also explored. We finished off by speculating on what little luxury we would pack in our own rucksacks (the characters had packed items such as very good chocolate, a tin of anchovies etcetera). Suggestions included an ipod, champagne and chocolate, cake, a big bag of oats for porridge, and vodka and caviar!

Doollally’s had a 3 for 2 offer on books and quite a few of us took the opportunity to stock up on the next three books.”

(Back to me – can I just add a personal, snarky comment? If the character of Nina was such a linguistic pedant, how come she used the annoying and incorrect phrase “bored of” in the last chapter? Or was this supposed to be a subtle indicatation of some mental slippage on her part?)

Anyway, it sounds like a really interesting meeting and I’m sorry to have missed it. Looking forward to next month, however, when we’ll be reading Carlisle author Jacob Polley’s Talk of the Town. This is a choice which all the New Writing North groups are reading and it links with the author’s forthcoming event at the Durham Book Festival.
See you then – and don’t forget the new earlier monthly dates – first Tuesdays of the month from now on!


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

September 2009
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