In 1895, the arctic explorer Captain Ian Ryder has let his house in Blackpool on the Nova Scotia coast to the recently married Clara Weiss, who is about to become the compass of a social circle far too intimate for its own good. Lost in a maze of obsessive Victorian pseudo-science and its ignorant fascinations with violence, spiritualism, the reanimation of corpses, the channelling of passions, and especially with the control of every aspect and function of the body, particularly the bodies of women, these characters are increasingly rendered impotent by the collision of their fantasies with their repressions?the sadism of their lust to penetrate others, and the masochism of their own constricted closures.
As Captain Ryder says of his crew as his claustrophobic ship continues to drift, trapped in the harsh white light of the polar ice: “How repelled I feel by this promiscuity with individuals for whom I truly feel nothing but aversion. ”
Set in the year Freud published his ground-breaking essay on hysteria, this is a compulsively readable, beautiful and dark novel of personal relations so close they verge on the incestuous, and desires so vast they approach the cold crystalline purity of the archetype.
- Winner, Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation 2001