The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate by Nancy Campbell - review by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler

The White Stuff

The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate


Scribner 324pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Nancy Campbell, a published poet, has written an intriguing book on human interaction with ice, in both practical and artistic spheres. It is a pleasant brew infused with elements not only of travel and history, but also of memoir and personal reflection: Campbell was, she says, ‘on a quest to understand ice’ (she thinks it might be because she was born in a snowstorm). During the seven years it took to complete this book, she writes, the Arctic ice became ‘an obsession that would not release me’.

The Library of Ice is organised geographically, with a couple of destinations per chapter, often museums. Campbell was working for a book and manuscript dealer in London, living more or less hand to mouth in a bedsit, when she decided to apply for a stint at an artist’s refuge at the northernmost museum in the world, in Upernavik in Greenland. Her application successful, she opted to go in winter. From there she battled on, gaining various artist’s residencies, including one sponsored by the Jan Michalski Foundation in the Jura mountains in Switzerland, where she lived in an ersatz treehouse. In between trips she picked up itinerant work.

The Library of Ice contains a dash of science (‘The density of ice is 0.9167g/cm cubed at 0° C’) and several forays into polar history. These latter cover the usual bases, including the story of the useless John Franklin, who led his entire crew to their doom in

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