After I wrote about SICK HEART RIVER in last week’s blog, I got to thinking about other works of fiction that deal with the intense cold, not least because we’ve had a bit of that ourselves and have been snowed in. I realised that some of the most memorable books I’ve read have dealt with weather conditions of snow and intense cold.
I first read Apsley Cherry-Gerrard’s THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD (1922) about twenty-five years ago when a friend and I were house-sitting in Sussex. It was written by the youngest member of Scott’s disastrous expedition to the South Pole. Cherry-Gerrard was part of the rescue team that found the frozen bodies of Scott and three other men. I recommend this book as a cure for mild depression, because as you read it you begin to feel profoundly grateful that you are not there. At least, you console yourself, you haven’t been driven to eating the ponies. So things can’t really be that bad.
Solzhenitsyn’s A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH I always associate with the winter I spend as a postgraduate at Keele University. Hardly the gulag, I agree, but it was very, very cold and there was still snow on the ground at Easter. Transport connections were lousy and I had a bad case of cabin fever.
Peter Hoeg’s best-seller, MISS SMILLA’S FEELING FOR SNOW, was gripping for about the first two thirds, but the plot became preposterous after that and it is largely the evocation of a wintry Copenhagen that stays in my mind.
Finally, Jack London’s short story ‘To Build a Fire’ (1908). I first read this years and years ago – probably as an undergraduate – and I have just found the full next on the internet. It is about a man travelling in the Yukon whose only hope of survival is to build a fire and it is just as chilling in every sense as I remembered. I don’t want to spoil it for you. Go and read it – and shiver.