This will be a short review: I just want to register that despite Ransmayr's reputation, his skill with narrative and temporality, and the heartbreaking real-life details of the Weyprecht Expedition (including a chilling scene in which a beloved sled dog, whose dead body had been dropped into a hole in the ice, resurfaces months later), this reads like the work of an academic historian. It is replete with well-researched detail, and its narrative is comfortable and warm, as if it were conceived and written in an archive. The book is often sublime, but it is a comfortable, late twilight sublime, the kind I also feel when I watch the midnight sun in a movie. Even when things get desperate, I am cushioned and comforted by Ransmayr's impeccable scholarship. As in Borges, even outlandish things are tamed by footnotes.
In the domain of arctic tragedies, this novel is outdone on every level -- narrative, fact, experience, force -- by William Vollmann's "The Rifles."