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Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin
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Minds of Winter

by Ed O'Loughlin

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I’m not sure whether to categorize this as a missing person’s story or an adventure story. Overall it’s a good one full of different characters who are directly or indirectly involved in the final disastrous voyage of the Sir John Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Everything centers around a chronometer which may have been on the the HMS Erebus or Terror. There are many characters and many time periods including the present. If you can keep going, this is a very well written story and I did find it quite compelling. The ending is a little disappointing as it leaves the identity of a main character unresolved. If you are interested in the far North, its cruel weather, history, explorers and adventurers, you may like this. ( )
  MaggieFlo | May 28, 2018 |
This was one of the most frustratng books I've read in a long time. It was a shortlisted book for the 2017 Giller Prize, so I was expecting something a little special. It also outlines the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin's two ships and his entire crew on the polar ice in the year of 1845. I have always been fascinated with this particular arctic mystery, and couldn't wait to read more about it. This book was all over the place as far as I was concerned. For the first 1/2 of the story, I found it tough slogging getting through all the differing points of view, different parts of the world, and different time frames I almost gave up many times. But I persevered and after about halfway through, I was starting to get into the story, and I was really enjoying all the Arctic and Antacrctic history and geography. I was also enjoying the stories about the early arctic explorers. What a unique breed thery were!! They all were tied in someway to the polar climates, and all of them wanted to discover new islands, bays and never-before=seen geography. The book went along fairly well again until right near the end. Just when I was hoping that the mysteries and secrets were going to be explained, it stopped and the ending was abrupt and anti-clamactic, and never did explain any of the mysteries surrounding an elusive timepiece from Sir John Franklin's failed expedition that had mysteriously turned up in a museum in the present day. The book appealed to me in some ways because Mr. O'Loughlin had very obviously done his resarch on these early arctic explorers, and he has captured their essnece in his descriptions of their writings and in their dealings with other people that they encountered in their nomadic lives. That carried me along through many pages in a semi-state of wonder, and then, he abruptly drops it all with no proper explanations, and a feeeling at the end that it had all been a dream for Arthur Nelson and his Fay Morgan. We never found out for sure what happened to Arthur's brother Bert and Fay's grandfather - both who mysteriously disappeared in the frozen tundra of the north. They were both lost in geographical proximity, but sixty years apart. In all honesty, I am not really sure how this book made the Giller Prize shortlist. Maybe I missed the entire point of the book. I am glad that I read it though because of the insight it gave me into the lives and minds of these intrepid arctic explorers. ( )
  Romonko | Feb 5, 2018 |
I've lost track of how many books I have read in the last ten years that touch on Sir John Franklin's quest for the North West Passage and the subsequent attempts to find him and his ships when they did not return to England. It seems to be almost a meme for Canadian literature and nonfiction. And it's a plot that never fails to entrance me so I guess it has become that prevalent for a good reason. Here's another book in that line and it's mesmerizing, if a little confusing.

Nelson arrives in Inuvik, NWT after his brother, Bert, sends an email asking him to drive there immediately. Except when Nelson gets to his brother's apartment Bert is gone and has not said where he is going. After spending a few days looking for Bert and also looking for work because he's broke and finding neither, Nelson decides to head back to Edmonton before a big storm blocks the road. As he is driving out of town he ends up driving into the airport instead of keeping to the road but he decides that is okay because he forgot to pick up cigarettes before he started out. At the terminal a British woman, Fay, asks him for a lift into town but he explains he is going to other way. Then he finds out he can't buy cigarettes in the terminal so he tells her he will drive her back into town where he will stock up with cigarettes. Fay came north because her grandfather disappeared from Tuktoyuktuk when the DEW line was being set up and her mother, who recently died, always wanted to come see where her father had spent his last days. Nelson and Fay are thrown together when the roads and the airport are closed and Fay needs someone to drive her to Tuktoyuktuk. Nelson has some of the research Bert had left behind in his apartment and Fay sees an article about a naval chronometer from the Franklin Expedition that had mysteriously turned up in England. Fay recognizes the chronometer as one that her grandmother had sitting on her mantle in Ireland. Is it a coincidence that Bert was looking into this or has fate brought Fay and Nelson together for some purpose? As the two delve into the reams of research Bert gathered they get glimpses of the lives of explorers throughout the centuries who have had some contact with the chronometer. It's a fascinating tale but pay close attention because the story twists and turns. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jan 29, 2018 |
This book came to my attention because of its nomination for both the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Giller Prize. The plot description also hooked me in, though I now wish I had resisted.

At the end of the Acknowledgements, the author thanks his three editors for working “long and hard to turn a self-indulgent mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery into something like a novel.” I’m afraid the editors did not succeed because the book, for me, still seems a “mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery.”

The characters who are present throughout the novel are Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan who are both in Inuvik trying to solve mysteries involving family members. Gradually, Fay finds information about her enigmatic grandfather in the research conducted by Nelson’s brother who has disappeared. There are just too many coincidences in this plot line to be believable. (I have not been able to figure out why the author chose for his female lead a name which alludes to Morgan le Faye, the enchantress of Arthurian legend.)

The majority of the book is multiple stories covering a span of 175 years. Historical figures like Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, and Jack London make an appearance. Likewise the settings cover much of the world; Tasmania, Tuktoyaktuk, Antarctica, eastern Siberia, Norway. Timelines are not chronological so they add to the confusion already present because of the number of characters, some of whom are loosely connected and some of whom just disappear from the narrative without explanation.

I am certain that I am not the only reader who will recall Aristotle’s statement about synergism: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Unfortunately, in the case of this novel, the opposite is true. The individual stories are often interesting, but the novel as a whole did not leave me feeling enthused. Of course, the individual vignettes vary in quality; the one involving Jack London is tedious and the one focusing on one of Amundsen’s mistresses seems pointless.

After a while, I felt that the book might have been better packaged as a collection of mysteries. The book does touch on several unsolved mysteries: Amundsen’s disappearance in an airborne rescue mission in the Arctic, the fate of the Franklin expedition, the identity of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, the appearance of Franklin’s chronometer disguised as a carriage clock in London. As expected, none of these is solved. When one of Franklin’s ships is discovered, one character mourns the loss of mystery: “’They had to go and find her. They had to solve a perfectly good mystery.’” The epilogue also suggests the author’s fascination with the mysterious: “lives don’t always end like they’re supposed to. Some people slip through the cracks.”

This book was just not for me. I can appreciate the amount of research that O’Loughlin did, but I found the book just too disjointed. At the end of his acknowledgments, the author thanks the reader for reading the book, “assuming you made it this far.” I have to admit that for me finishing the book became a chore. I will be checking the reviews of others in the hope that someone will be able to fully explain this novel’s worth to me.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Oct 16, 2017 |
This is a complicated novel focusing on polar exploration, and is a blend of fact and fiction. Its impetus was the discovery in London in 2009 of a chronometer from the Franklin expedition, several years before the remnants of the lost expedition were located. A logical and likely factual explanation for the mysterious reappearance of the chronometer is set forth at the end of the novel. However, in the novel itself, the whereabouts and possessors of this chronometer are imagined from the Franklin Expedition through the ages until its discovery in 2009. This takes us along on the Franklin Expedition, some adventures with Crozier, expeditions seeking the fate of the Franklin expedition, the Scott Expedition to the South Pole, the Amundsen Expedition seeking a reverse Northwest Passage, and the doomed expedition ending on an ice floe with the Inuit Ipiirvig and his wife Taqulittnq drifting south. Along the way, there are appearances by Ensign Bellot, for whom Bellot Strait is named, Jack London, and many others, fictional and real, including Amundsen's lover.

The novel begins in the present with Nelson, in Canada's Northern Territory in search of his missing brother, and Fay, who has come to the area in search of clues about the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather years before. Their story is complexly interwoven with the historic polar explorations, and it becomes more and more apparent that their present day searches and the past are all interrelated.

Minds of Winter was long-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for 2017. I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it for those who have an interest in polar exploration, and probably also some background knowledge of the subject. I had a little background knowledge (not much), and I was constantly googling as I was reading. If this sounds annoying to you, you probably wouldn't like this book.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Sep 21, 2017 |
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amazon ca:It begins with a chance encounter at the top of the world.

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.

In a feat of extraordinary scope and ambition, Ed O’Loughlin moves between a frozen present and an ever thawing past. Minds of Winter is a novel about ice and time and their ability to preserve or destroy, of mortality and loss and our dreams of transcending them.
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"In a journey shrouded in mystery and intrigue, Sir John Franklin's 1845 campaign in search of the Northwest Passage ended in tragedy. All 129 men were lost to the ice, and nothing from the expedition was retrieved, including two rare and valuable Greenwich chronometers. When one of the chronometers appears a century and a half later in London, in pristine condition and crudely disguised as a Victorian carriage clock, new questions arise about what really happened on that expedition--and the fates of the men involved. When Nelson Nilsson, an aimless drifter from Alberta, finds himself in Canada's Northern Territories in search of his brother, he meets Fay Morgan by chance. Fay has just arrived from London, hoping to find answers to her burning questions about her past. When they discover that their questions about their pasts and present are inextricably linked, the two will become unlikely partners as they unravel a mystery that traverses continents and centuries. In a narrative that crosses time and space, O'Loughlin delves deep into the history of Franklin's expedition through the eyes of the explorers themselves, addressing questions that have intrigued historians and readers for centuries. What motivated these men to strike out on dangerous campaigns in search of the unknown? What was at stake for them, and for those they left behind? And when things went wrong--things that couldn't be shared--what would they do to protect themselves and their discoveries?"--… (more)

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