Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cold Earth: Review (possible spoilers)

Cold Earth is a debut novel by Sarah Moss.  It is set in Greenland with a team of six archaeologists and researchers from the United States, England and Scotland spending a few weeks at the beginning of the Arctic summer searching for traces of a lost Viking settlement. While they are on the expedition, there is an epidemic of some sort going on and they gradually lose contact with family at home and the outside world in general.  In response, they each write what may be their last letter home.

Added to their increasing distress at what might be happening to the world around them is the unease created by Nina.  Nina isn't really an archaeologist--she's an English major trying to tie Vikings into her research...and a friend of the team leader, Yianni.  Nina begins seeing and hearing things and believes that the ancient Vikings are not pleased to have their resting place disturbed.  With their connection to the outside world lost, food running out, and the possibility that no one will come back to get them, the possibility of a haunted burial site may be the last straw.

Described on the back of the book as an "exceptional and haunting debut novel" and a "heart-pounding thriller," it does sound like there's a lot of cool things going on.  Doesn't it?  Well....there's a lot of really cool ways that this story could have played out.  And it doesn't use any of them.  The ending is incredibly disappointing.  After creating all this tension regarding the "epidemic" back home, we don't really ever find out how this epidemic affected them. Or affected anyone, really.  After building up this atmosphere of a haunted archaeological site, we never find out if it's really haunted or if Nina is just one disturbed academic.  There's the suggestion that it might all be in her head or that she's even behind the odd things that happen (somewhat reminiscent of The Haunting of Hill House), but it's even vaguer than Shirley Jackson's novel on that point.  

This was a fairly decent read.  It kept me going to the end.  But I was thoroughly dissatisfied when I finished. I had very little sympathy with any of the characters--and two of them--Yianni, the team leader, and Ben--get very short shrift indeed.  Nina gives us 103 pages for her letter, Ruth--79...and the letters get shorter and shorter.  While both Yianni and Ben (the last of the writers) give us a mere four pages apiece.  The team leader has only four pages to relate about one of the most important digs of his career?  

So...this is represented as an apocalyptic, end of the world tale with dash of ghost story for added flavor.  It comes off as rather bland and certainly not "thrilling" in any sense of the word.  I didn't hate it--but I can't say that I'll be recommending it. Two stars.

1 comment:

w said...

For a book that sounded really interesting, sorry to hear it was underwhelming and disappointing. Any books with ghosts in it these day is a non-starter with the exception of a few writers who can incorporate those elements in a fashion I can tolerate. Mostly, I avoid apocalyptic type of fiction. Just not my thing.