A finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Minds of Winter is a mesmerizing novel about the chance meeting of two present-day travellers who expose one of the most perplexing mysteries in the history of Arctic exploration.
Fay Morgan and Nelson Nilsson have each arrived in Inuvik, Canada, about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Both are in search of answers about a family member: Nelson for his estranged older brother, and Fay for her vanished grandfather. Driving Fay into town from the airport on a freezing January night, Nelson reveals a folder left behind by his brother. An image catches Fay’s eye: a clock she has seen before. Soon Fay and Nelson realize that their relatives have an extraordinary and historic connection — a secret share in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of polar expedition. This is the riddle of the “Arnold 294” chronometer, which reappeared in Britain more than a hundred years after it was lost in the Arctic with the ships and men of Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition. The secret history of this elusive timepiece, Fay and Nelson will discover, ties them and their families to a journey that echoes across two centuries.
About the author
Ed O’Loughlin is an Irish Canadian author and journalist. His first novel, Not Untrue and Not Unkind, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. His second novel, Toploader, was published in 2011. House of Anansi published his third novel, Minds of Winter, in spring of 2017, which was long-listed for the Sir Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.
As a journalist, Ed reported from Africa for several papers, including the Irish Times. He was the Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age of Melbourne. Ed was born in Toronto and raised in Ireland. He now lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.
- Long-listed, The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
Historic fiction in a conspiracy frame storyRemarkable work of historical fiction. Intricate in structure, convincing and meticulous in detail, and surprisingly engrossing in character, this novel avoids typical plot, organization, and closure in favour of more challenging choices.
The modern-day frame story is of two lost souls in the high Canadian Arctic and, oddly, a historic marine chronometer. Nelson's brother (recent) and Faye's grandfather (long past) went missing in the area - but they're not there on a Dan Brown-esque mystery-thriller search for the truth. This case of missing, confused, and obfuscated identities resists such tidy progressions. Instead, the unlikely couple stumble their way into uncertain discoveries of questionable validity based on documents left behind by Nelson's apparently-missing brother. This modern day progression is interspersed with "found" documents and firsthand accounts of explorers, adventurers, and secret-history-movers of the last two centuries prodding at the edges of the unknown on journeys that range from Australia to the Arctic and very nearly everywhere in between. The dots don't connect - or maybe they do - but the real surprise is how enjoyable the ride is.
I don't usually enjoy fiction that lacks the classic rise-and-fall story arc or that evade neatly-wrapped endings, but the unconventional format of this book somehow worked for me. Strong research, a talent for authentic(-seeming) voice, and telling details bring to life far-flung locations and eras long since passed. I couldn't keep track of the location, time, character, and (potential, suggested, unconfirmed) links between the jumps for most of the book - and in fact, once I thought I'd worked out the trajectory, this book happily dumped the drawer upside down on me once more. In effect, the experience is like reading a loosely-linked series of short stories or historic records. I'm not sure if it's the inherently fraught circumstances of so many of the players, the exotically far-reaching locales, or the promise of a mystery to untangle, but this dense, interwoven narrative completely held my attention. Highly recommended read.