Icefields

Overview

Winner of:

  • The Banff Grand National Prize for Literature
  • The Writers Guild of Alberta Best First Book Award
  • The Commonwealth Best First Novel Prize (Caribbean and Canada Region)

  • At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Acturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a ...
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Icefields

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Overview

Winner of:

  • The Banff Grand National Prize for Literature
  • The Writers Guild of Alberta Best First Book Award
  • The Commonwealth Best First Novel Prize (Caribbean and Canada Region)

  • At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Acturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse . . .
    Nearly sixty feet below the surface, Byrne is wedged upside down between the narrowing walls of a chasm, fighting his desire to sleep. The ice in front of him is lit with a pale blue-green radiance. There, embedded in he pure, antediluvian glacier, Byrne sees something that will inextricably link him to the vast bed of ice, and the people who inhabit this strange corner of the world. In this moment, his life becomes a quest to uncover the mystery of the icefield that almost became his tomb.
    Within the deceptively simple framework of a tourist guidebook, Icefields takes a breathtaking, imaginative look at the human spirit, loss, myth, and elusive truths. Here is an impressive literary landscape, and an expedition unlike any you have ever experienced.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Peter Simpson Telegraph-Journal "Crosses Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient with Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. . . . Ironic, brilliant, and unforgettable . . ."

Larry Watson Author of Montana 1948 and Justice "Icefields is a wonderful novel. Thomas Wharton writes prose that feels simultaneously stripped-down yet lush. He takes an ordinary, realistic place — that plain, icy mountain — and makes it exotic, magical, extraordinary."

Susan Taylor Chehak Author of Smithereens "What an accomplishment. . . . A magical story, told with such cool reserve — the deceptive simplicity of its language and the multifaceted complexity of time, character, and plot, so much like the ice cathedral that it describes, held me completely in its thrall. . . . I'm haunted by those people and that place."

Joy Gugeler The Ottawa Citizen "A stunning debut. . . . Wharton's poetic passages betray a slow flame beneath the cool prose, a raw intense curiosity which fascinates and lays everything bare. His characters are memorably distinct and his portrait of the Rockies is at once exhaustive and engaging."

Mark Glles The Calgary Herald "Wharton writes with a prose style as clear as glacial waters, tempered with brilliant imagery and lucid dialogue. . . . If at times the style betrays Wharton's influences — there are glimpses of Michael Ondaatje, Rudy Wiebe, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Kristjana Gunnars — it is never imitative; Wharton is an original writer and Icefields is an original novel."

R. W. Sandford The Jasper Booster Community "Spare and simple, like the glaciers and frozen peaks he describes, Wharton's writing mirror the beauty of the high alpine landscape. . . . It is not often that you come across a locally written classic."

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This first novel by Canadian Wharton, borrows something of the mystery and icy obsessiveness of Peter Heg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, the bleak hallucinatory vision of William Vollman's The Ice Shirt and a cast of haunted characters reminiscent of Josephine Hart's Damage. The result is a bit of a pastiche of styles and subjects of recent popular books (there's even evidence of an angel). But Wharton is a competent writer and this is likely to be strong on sales, even if it's not long on inventiveness. In 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne leaves England for an expedition to the Arcturus glacier. A fall into a crevasse hints at the magic of the glacier, and his subsequent convalescence in the "town" of Jasper clinches it. Byrne becomes increasingly tied to the glacier, not only bivouacking on a nunatak or rognon but obsessively describing it and studying it. As one Jasper resident says of his work on glaciers, "I thought he was the one man on earth who bothered that much with them, that this science was his alone, that he had invented it. Arcturology. The science of being distant, and receding a little every year." As the glacier recedes, it reveals new objects, some transformed beyond recognition by its passing. Time does the same thing for characters in the story, absorbing some only to spit them up later in another form, dragging others under forever. Wharton has a fine sense of description, dialogue that is as spare as the landscape and a subtle hand with narrative. But underlying it all is an old-world sense of awe (think Burke, Byron, Shelley) that allows this spare novel to transcend its limitations. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671002206
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 0.65 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Wharton

Thomas Wharton was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, a northern Canada oil and gas boomtown. He spent much of his youth moving from town to town, and settled for a few years in Jasper, Alberta. The small town so influenced Wharton that he set his debut novel, Icefields, there.

After a variety of jobs — including hiking guide, bookstore clerk, lab technician, and technical illustrator — he set his sights on writing. Receiving his M.A. in English from the University of Alberta in 1993, Wharton turned his thesis into his first novel, Icefields. NeWest Press published his debut in 1995 in his native Canada, where it received critical acclaim, and hit local bestseller lists. Washington Square Press, a division of Pocket Books, published the U.S. edition of Icefields on September 9, 1996.

Wharton is currently working on his Ph.D. in English at University of Calgary. He lives with his wife and two small children.

(Click here to read an interview with the author.)

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