Archive | September, 2019

Van has finished reading… The Ice by Laline Paull

25 Sep

the ice

The sea ice is gone and the Arctic is open for business. Tourists on a cruise, hungry for the sight of a polar bear get more than they bargained for when they witness the largest reported ‘calving’ of a glacier – and the resurfacing of the body it releases. What really happened to environmentalist and business associate Tom Harding at a remote Arctic Lodge four years earlier? Is anyone ready to tell the truth?


Laline Paull’s second novel, The Ice, is a gripping story of success, betrayal and the boundaries people are prepared to cross to get where they want to go. We follow Sean Cawson – a self-made man and old friend of Tom Harding’s – from hearing the news of Tom’s re-emergence, through the inquest into his death where Sean is a main witness, having survived the incident that killed Tom. Flashbacks into Sean’s past draw the main characters together and set their trajectories tidily, the environment on one side and business on the other, though in the courtroom it’s frequently where friendships blur those battle lines that the tension mounts. The pace picks up with the mounting tension and rushes headlong at a particularly satisfying last few chapters.


Climate change is undoubtedly the driving force of this novel – in both plot and the reason for its being – though its application is suitably subtle. The Inquest witness box allows nicely for those moments of grandstanding you might expect on both sides of the argument but aside from that there are those little things you’ve probably noticed, and that we’ll expect to become more frequent occurrences until they’re accepted as the norm. The trees greening up earlier and earlier, summer clothes even before it’s meant to be spring, that fine rust coating of Saharan dust over London. And then there’s the moment in the novel where the Northern Lights are clearly visible over London, and of course we’re all ooh and aah and can’t possibly imagine just how bad a sign that really is.


I love the character of Joe Kingsmith – what a very Arthur Miller name that is, really on the money, that one. He’s everything we want in an archetype, and just that little bit extra too. For all the work Laline Paull does to stop us making our minds up too early, there’s that sullied feeling we get in the presence of too much power and money, the prey-response unease he can’t fail to provoke. And then there’s Radiance, perhaps the other side of the Kingsmith coin: despite the power and money her shrewdness leaves us helpless when we want to dislike her.


Interspersed between chapters are snippets from various historic Arctic Journals that begin by showing us something of the hardship and extremity of the polar region. What I found most interesting about them is how, used in this way, they’re seen as the early-warning flare. Men (inevitably, it’s men) who want to face these extremities and chart these uncharted places, and the men who want to read about it and then go and do their own charting, and seemingly ubiquitous writing-off of the communities who live there already so as to highlight rather than undermine each author’s endeavours. What’s undeniable in all this is that we as a species can’t bear the blank space on the map. And hot on the heels of those blazers of the blank-space trail is the money and the ruin.


Laline Paull’s The Ice is a prescient and gripping read. Big characters to test your allegiances, a taut plot to test your nerves, and stakes that couldn’t be higher. Well, what else would you expect from the author of The Bees?

Read it now, before it becomes fact!


The Ice was published by 4th Estate on the 4th May 2017 ISBN:9780007557752

You can find Laline on Twitter @ and at her website, 4th Estate


Van has finished reading… Don’t Think A Single Thought by Diana Cambridge

3 Sep

don't think a single thought


It’s the 1960’s and New York is the only place to be. Success, style and glamour is what everybody wants and Emma Bowden has it all: the writing career, the Manhattan apartment, the successful husband – a renowned surgeon, the holiday home in The Hamptons. In the words of Patricia Neal – in the city and draped in Trigere, levelling that cut-glass demeanour at George Peppard – she is a very stylish girl.

So why is she not content?

While on vacation in The Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma. Her perfect life begins to spiral out of control, and the past threatens to destroy everything she has worked for.

Diana Cambridge’s Don’t Think A Single Thought is a precise and gripping descent into the heart and mind of a troubled woman. And what a superb character Emma Bowden is. I love the way that even on the first page you find yourself judging and then re-evaluating as each detail emerges. There’s a sense of playing with the stereotype, luring us in but then shifting the light slightly. That sense of her superficiality lingers well into the story too, forcing that readjustment time and time again, heightening the tension as you consider what’s already happened, and where things might be heading.

It would be a stretch, I think, to say the protagonist is a nice person, though that doesn’t mean the character is not sympathetic. Not so much an unreliable narrator as a compromised one and that’s a delicious niche to fall into. The more we learn the more we question motive and action, and the more we question the façade of this perfect life, too. As with any marriage, there are two people there and it’s interesting to examine the level of what appears to be acceptable on both sides of this relationship.

You hear a lot about opening lines and scene-setting, and also about writing rules. It takes Diana Cambridge nine words to both break a rule and put you on notice that things are not going to go smoothly. If you think this book’s a little slim to hold your attention, bear in mind that most of what we read takes at least a couple of paragraphs to do that. The writing is lean but undeniably skilful. The sense of place, character interplay and particularly Emma’s emotional state is never in doubt. Whether you like her or not, trust her or not, you’ll be there with Emma all the way to the finale. It’s excellent!


Don’t Think A Single Thought is published by Louise Walters Books on the 26th September 2019 ISBN:9781999780999

You can find Diana on Twitter @DianaCambridge on her website,


My thanks to Louise Walters for allowing me to review this fantastic book.