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VINE VOICEon 25 November 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
Sarah Moss' debut novel isn't quite the ultra-frightener the broadsheets would have you believe, but it is an eerie and satisfying read. The narrative conceit is first-rate: six archaeologists are on a dig in Greenland when a killer plague sweeps the planet, leaving them they hunker down in the Norse farmhouse they were excavating, get thoroughly spooked out and write a bunch of letters to their (potentially now dead) loved ones. These letters, which actually comprise the novel, chart the archaeologists' descent into superstition and panic and the reader is left to decide whether they are going genuinely mad or actually dealing with the paranormal...admittedly proceedings get somewhat creepy - mainly due to Moss' taut style. The book is short (less than 300 pages), understated and deeply engaging.
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Six people are on an archeological dig in an isolated part of Greenland. Before the dig even starts there is a sense of unease, with a media panic about a pandemic said to be spreading across the globe. We hear the story from all the members points of view, but largely from that of Nina and Ruth, who have an immediate antipathy for each other. Nina is an Oxford scholar, with a love of food and her partner David, and a line of casual putdowns aimed at America in general and Ruth in particular. Ruth is a calm, controlled and attractive woman, who is battling her own demons and has no patience with, what she sees, as Nina's attention seeking and paranoia. Nina, meanwhile, is beginning to unsettle the group with nightmares and talk of ghosts. Then the internet connection dies and there is the added worry that the group will not be able to leave. Even worse is the fear that Nina is not imagining things...

This is a really excellent novel, with fantastic characters and a real sense of being there it is so descriptive. This was Sarah Moss's first novel and I am glad to say that her second novel, Night Waking, is even better. Read it and enjoy.
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VINE VOICEon 13 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What is it about? Six people with varying motives and varying levels of enthusiasm head to Greenland to excavate a ruined and pillaged farm site. The dig is set against isolation from the rest of the world which is suffering from a swine-flu like outbreak of unknown severity. The novel tells all of their stories against the back drop of the trials of surviving not only the bleak surroundings, but each other. With each character Sarah Moss offers less detail, just glimpses of who they are but with each narration there is more urgency as the reality of their danger becomes apparent. This is a thriller and the story will keep you engaged; it is also an exploration of people and how they deal with life's situations.

What's to like? The narrative is delivered in letters home from each of the characters which together with the David Mitchell-esque devices used in Nina's letters (is she dreaming, psychotic or is it real?) helps keep this a vigorous and compelling read - for the most part. The story is cleverly woven and has just enough fright value to keep some people (like me) awake at night!

What's not to like? The main narrator, Nina, is hard to empathise with until her very last contribution. The dénouement may leave you a little flat - but only until it sinks into your mind.

What should you buy next? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell); the Rough Guide to Greenland; a night lite.
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Cold Earth tells the story of a group of six young academics on an expedition to Greenland to excavate a deserted Norse settlement. The group consists of a diverse bunch of characters, including archaeologists, anthropologists and an English Lit postgrad who is researching the influence of old Norse sagas on Victorian poetry. As they set out on their journey, the media are just beginning to whip up a storm of hysteria about a deadly bird-flu type virus which is spreading across parts of the US and Europe.

The book is set out in the form of letters written by the six to their loved ones back home. In line with their experiences, the tone of the letters starts out quite hopeful and positive, but gradually becomes more fearful and desperate as they come to terms with their seemingly hopeless situation. Their sense of isolation intensifies as their communications systems start to fail (though a combination of bad luck and bad planning) and they have no idea what has happened to their families, and whether anyone even knows that they are still alive and need to be rescued.

The star of the book for me was Nina (who narrates the first and largest chapter). There are hints to some sort of mental instability in her past, and she is the first of the group to succumb to the pervading sense of fear and superstition which hangs over the camp. Thanks to Nina's visions and tales of 'things that go bump in the night', the rest of the team start to have doubts about whether they really are alone on the island.

This was a wonderfully eerie and entertaining read. I see from other reviews that there's some criticism of the ending and some readers would have preferred something more ambiguous. Personally I liked it and thought it gave an interesting slant to the story. I've really enjoyed Sarah Moss's two novels - both of which feature a cast of interesting and recognisable characters and are set on cold, remote islands with dark histories - not surprising when you consider she has also written an anthology called 'Scott's Last Biscuit' (a collection of writings by and about polar explorers) and she wrote her doctoral thesis on polar travel writing.
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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2009
The story is presented in a somewhat tantalising way and reads as a page-turning thriller. It's well written - the prose is straightforward and fluent. Suspense builds nicely. In many respects Sarah Moss is teasing her readers which generally works - I found myself wanting to reach the end in order to discover whether the paranoia surrounding the virus was justified. Alas, the ending did not match expectations. The author should not have included the final 'chapter'. Instead the penultimate chapter would have been a wonderfully ambiguous ending. Also, there needed to be a better delineation between the 'voices' of the characters (Nina was fine but the others tended to blur). That said, this is an imaginative novel and a promising debut.
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on 8 May 2015
I have just finished this book. I found it hard to put down. Sarah Moss writes so well, her characters are - female ones in particular, are well rounded, pithy and witty. I have just bought another book by her and I hope it will be as good.
Cold Earth is part mystical, part documentary, part apocalyptic disaster and crafted as letters written by the academic participants in an isolated archaeological dig. The academic bit is important to the story, as it is at the core reason for of why and how things happens.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly if you like an intelligent read that piques you mystical side.
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on 27 September 2011
Not my normal type of book but it was something a bit different and I found it quite gripping. Observing different people's reactions to the growing realisation of a situation getting out of control is fascinating and makes you think about how well you know yourself and how you would react.
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Wow! What a great book! I read this like a woman possessed; couldn't put it down!

Okay, I admit to being a sucker for books set in or around or related to Greenland, Iceland or Newfoundland - particularly those that reference or have echoes of Norse or Viking ways in them. This would apply definitely to this book - and to Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders or Joan Clark's Latitudes of Melt. All these books have grabbed me and not let me go from the first page to the last; and I find myself thinking about them long after having put them away. And I know I'll read them again.

Sarah Moss' Cold Earth is one of those books; I'll definitely read this again, and slowly, savouring every word on the page. For Ms Moss is one of those writers who may not write a huge number of pages in a book such as this, but every word is gold. For every word written, there are half a dozen words not written which conjure up images of things, times, places, people; but you can imagine them. Her writing is crisp, sure, minimal, evocative.

And the story in this book is fantastic. So possible, so real; you feel like you're there shivering in the cold with everyone else, not knowing what's going on in the `outside' world, and really afraid of what may be going on in your own little enclosed world in a corner of Greenland. What's really going on? What is it that these six troubled people are really experiencing? What's the link to the brutal deaths of settlers hundreds of years ago? And will they return to a world they can even recognise any more?

If I could give this more than five stars I would. I'm really sorry I finished this - I wanted it to go on and on. I'm off to read some Michael Ridpath.
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on 21 September 2015
The third of Sarah Moss's novels I've read and the least enjoyable, mostly because of a too high inability to feel empathy with the characters on my part, and the particular trauma they were gong through not high on my list of things to fear.
It is very well-written and kept me reading, and certainly I have no qualms about having 'Signs for Lost Children' still to read.
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on 16 April 2012
This has been until recently a neglected second hand copy on a growing book shelf. I found myself pleasantly surprised. This book is an interesting concept with different characters and personalities clashes. For a short novel it's depth of dealt thorough character input is immense. I felt the ending was perhaps a little rushed and there is a long that is left up to reader input. Plenty of discussion points here for a reading group but not so good if you're a single person reading this. However don't knock it, try it and discover a different class of modern writer!
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