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VINE VOICEon 24 February 2007
TSOTC is beautifully written novel set in the Arctic in August 1616. Thomas Cave, a quiet thoughtful seafarer, finds himself at the centre of a wager that leaves him on his own and battling the arctic wilderness for a year with little more than basic provisions. What starts as a book about Man vs Nature evolves into a book about Man vs His Nature, and I was painfully aware of the modern parallels.

The prose is measured, but not manipulative. Author Harding fluently weaves together the psychological and physical elements that claw for Thomas Cave's attention and insinuate themselves as truth, with or without proof. Highly recommended.
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on 1 June 2007
There is beauty here, and not just in the exquisite cover and interesting page edges. The writing, like the scenery Harding portrays, is stark but evocative; beautiful and engaging and the concept is reminiscent of Cruesoe.

The writing is incredibly vivid in places. It is a book that touches all the senses. The cold, the isolation, the fear, the sense of timelessness all haunted me as I read. The whaling itself was so well described that it left me quite perturbed. I could almost feel the blubber under foot; I could almost feel the knife slicing through the lice-ridden skin and smell it festering in the 24 hour sun.

On the simplest level this is a book about man's capacity to survive, to adapt, to leave his footprint on the world he inhabits; it is about the ability in the most ordinary of men to do the extraordinary. I love this about it. It is inspiring.

Most of all, though, this novel is about change. It is a allegory of man's impact on the environment and the environment's impact on men. The two are linked and this book outlines that link beautifully.

If I can be fussy for a moment, I would have liked to have seen more of Cave's time back in civilisation and, but this is a small quibble. This is a great read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 December 2009
How would it be to choose solitude, with no certain hope of changing one's mind? How would it be, in the end, to rely upon who you are, your skills and talents, and upon surrender to, and understanding, the implacability and indifference of the vastness of the natural world?

This is a fascinating subject to me. Most of us are so used to having our needs met by the interdependency of community; we never need to confront our deepest identity, who we are in relationship to ourselves. Only oneself as a measure of what it is to be human.

I've read a lot of books that are factual accounts of exploration of solitude, A Book of Silence and a relationship with the environment The Wild Places or an attempt to piece together a book about someone else's solitude Into the Wild and there does seem to be something particularly challenging and revealing about the 'extreme North' both as idea and as reality. Something about the light and the unearthly clarity of deep snow, and the frozen brightness of that white and unforgiving landscape.

Harding's book, written with a sombre, bleak descriptiveness is a fictional account of one man's experience of 'North'. Set in the seventeenth century, it recounts the tale of a sailor choosing to spend nearly a year in an isolated whaling station, in the far Arctic. Lack of any technology makes this particularly risky, as there is of course no certainty that the whaling ship which leaves him will itself survive the journey back to civilisation or even the return the next year to collect him. Cave is left with himself, his thoughts, his history and his ingenuity, and the experience is of course burning and refining.

A wonderful and thought provoking read, even if I couldn't go quite to 5 star, as the final third of the book, where the wider historical perspective really kicked in, felt a little disconnected, and there was, at moments, a sensibility which felt a little 'modern' rather than of its time.
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on 29 March 2011
I was recommended this by my mum, perhaps because she remembered how much I loved Moby Dick when I was younger. It is an intricately layered novel, set during the Seventeenth Century, and centering on a sailor on a whaling ship out of Hull who takes a wager to remain in Greenland through the winter. It is a book about loss and loneliness, carefully paced and finely spun out in waves of clear, almost sparse narrative interspersed with flurries of lush descriptive writing.
The kind of book that makes you happily forgive the occasional glaring error. Ten pounds seems far too much for an ordinary seaman in the 17th Century to wager. The tone of the whole book, in fact, seems to be more like the early 19th C - until we reach the beginnings of the Civil War, in the final chapters. And what on earth made the author suggest that Snipe have curved bills (p.21)? Straight as a pikestaff, whenever I've seen one. Is she confusing them with Curlew? No matter - it is still a lovely novel.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 21 March 2012
I love reading books about isolation in the North Atlantic - and this book boded well in that regard. Thomas Cave, a whaler in 1616, is left at his own behest at a whaling station when his ship sails away. He has sworn to attempt to live there, on his own, for a year, with the whaling ship returning next season to see if he has been successful or not. They leave him with all the provisions they think he will need. Thomas takes to keeping a diary; not so much of his feelings or thoughts, but of survival - so that at the very least, if he dies before the ship returns, they will know of the limits of his endurance and the viability of any future plans for staying on the island that we now know as Svalbard. While reading Thomas' diary, and hearing his observations, we find more of this enigmatic man; what drove him, what led him to where he is now, and why he is doing this apparently suicidal thing. The story picks up again in 1640, with one of his former shipmates narrating the ship's return to Svalbard after the winter, to pick up Thomas Cave.

This is one of those books that you read hungrily, avid to find out what happens next. But it leaves you thinking, and determined to read it again, slowly and deliberately, to savour each nuance of the characters, of the atmosphere, of the story itself. Recommended for a thoughtful, enlightening read.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 November 2015
I love reading books about isolation in the North Atlantic - and this book boded well in that regard. Thomas Cave, a whaler in 1616, is left at his own behest at a whaling station when his ship sails away. He has sworn to attempt to live there, on his own, for a year, with the whaling ship returning next season to see if he has been successful or not. They leave him with all the provisions they think he will need. Thomas takes to keeping a diary; not so much of his feelings or thoughts, but of survival - so that at the very least, if he dies before the ship returns, they will know of the limits of his endurance and the viability of any future plans for staying on the island that we now know as Svalbard. While reading Thomas' diary, and hearing his observations, we find more of this enigmatic man; what drove him, what led him to where he is now, and why he is doing this apparently suicidal thing. The story picks up again in 1640, with one of his former shipmates narrating the ship's return to Svalbard after the winter, to pick up Thomas Cave.

This is one of those books that you read hungrily, avid to find out what happens next. But it leaves you thinking, and determined to read it again, slowly and deliberately, to savour each nuance of the characters, of the atmosphere, of the story itself. Recommended for a thoughtful, enlightening read.
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on 15 March 2007
I have always been fascinated with the frozen north, and a review of this book caught my eye. the story it tells of a man choosing to face the ultimate solitude is well told - the detail in the descriptions of the landscape, of the extraordinary Northern light, and of the inside of a man's head, are well executed and engaging - I got through the book in a couple of days. My one question would be why set it it the 17th century - there is something jarring in the language that feels more recent - more akin with Melville or James than Shakespeare and Milton.

Of course, after reading it, you are going to want to see Ray Mears try and recreate it.

The simplicity with which the characters are drawn is refreshing, and the intensity of the mental and physical journey the two main characters go on is compelling. Great book
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on 28 May 2009
This is beautifully written, astonishing to think it is a first novel. In 1616, the ice is closing in and a whaling crew must return home - but one of their number, Thomas Cave, haunted by the deaths of his wife and stillborn child, makes a wager that he will remain alone there until the boat returns next season.
The descriptions of the bleak landscape are haunting. I have never been in the Arctic, but I have been on the Antarctic peninsula and visited an abandoned whaling station and seen a ruined hut where a shipwrecked crew survived through a winter. Georgina Harding brought these places vividly alive for me, the dark loneliness, but especially the stench and horrors of the whaling industry and its blight on a world that was an Eden until man stepped there.
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on 9 February 2007
This is a staggeringly eloquent and beautifully written novel about a man who chooses to spend the winter alone in the Artic. I read this in one sitting and it literally sent shivers down my spine because the cold, sparse landscape is described so vividly. I hadn't heard of the author before but I hope she writes more. This is exquisite.
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on 23 October 2014
Set in the first half of the 17th century, this is a poetic and highly literate novel that has as its themes the nature of mankind and our impact on the environment. Thomas Cave is a whaler on Arctic expeditions collecting whale oil and associated products, which in the early 1600s was a highly hazardous though lucrative occupation. Cave accepts a wager that he would be able to survive an Arctic winter alone and is left behind by his ship with provisions and shelter as the summer conditions begin to give way to the icy temperatures of winter.

The long months of utter isolation and privation are recorded in his journal and by the author as narrator. As the reader soon grasps, there are reasons apart from monetary gain why Cave has taken up the challenge. He is a bereaved widower and seeks out silence and loneliness to be with his grief and despair. Cave reflects on his brief marriage to Johanne and her death in childbirth. In his privations he hallucinates and feels haunted by his dead wife and child.

The novel is not primarily plot driven, so nothing is given away by revealing that Cave survives the long, desperately hard winter: but he is a changed man. The young ship hand, Thomas Goodlard, records his friendship with Cave both before and after the latter’s experience and, many years later, he seeks out Cave as an old man.

Thomas Cave developed an innate empathy with the fauna of the Arctic and regrets mankind’s vicious depredation to extract profit and ruin their teeming environment. It is a message for the modern world with the fast disappearance of species and man’s increasingly clumsy and destructive footprints on the world. It is also a wonderfully delicate novel, not one to be rushed but savoured and reflected upon.
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