The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna - review by Nick Smith

Nick Smith

The Arctic Atlantis

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule


Viking 334pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

When Joanna Kavenna was a little girl she dreamt of the northern icecap, a vast frozen wasteland inhabited by lonely trappers and hunters, great white bears and the ghosts of Victorian gentleman explorers. She would pitch her tent in her back garden in East Anglia, and, despite having no idea what pemmican was, would pretend to eat it. As she grew up she devoured the memoirs of Arctic explorers too, and eventually (in a poetically inspired fit of pique directed chiefly at London) gave up her nice job – her friends thought she was bonkers – and set off north into the gelid (her word) snow and ice. Her mission was to search for Thule, a lost northern land once seen by the Ancient Greek explorer Pytheas in the fourth century BC, ‘six days’ sail north of Britain’. The place has now passed into mythology – a kind of Arctic equivalent of Atlantis – and The Ice Museum is Kavenna’s account of her quest.

At this point it is worth mentioning two important things: first, despite her pretensions to being an explorer, Kavenna is a million times more comfortable with the ideal of adventure than with the reality; second, despite her

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