A vivid and perceptive book combining memoir, scientific and cultural history with a bewitching account of landscape and place, which will appeal to readers of Robert Macfarlane, Roger Deakin and Olivia Laing.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of The Library of Ice — and the element that best highlights the interconnectivity of human language and landscape — is the way in which Campbell writes her own creative process into the text. Its function as a memoir means that she frequently refers to the book she is writing, which is, of course, the book we are reading: 'I’m writing this chapter backwards,' she informs us. This metatextuality works to draw us up short, encouraging the reader to think more deeply about the process of writing, the apparatus, time, and materiality that come to bear on meaning and language, and to use some of those ideas to consider the inevitable challenges that will be faced by people and places as a result of a warming climate.
The Library of Ice explores cultural perspectives on ice and snow, and traces Campbell’s ice-obsession to that memory of adventure, return and comfort ... At the end of the book Campbell returns to London; it’s not clear if her time in the snow globe has been a refuge, or, as she once feared, a kind of entrapment. She unpacks her books with a gathering sense of liberation, but feels ambivalent about words as a legacy, as a way of shoring up the present against the future. Her ice-obsession has a refreshing lack of romanticism; she reflects that her old snow globe probably had nothing to do with her motivation after all.
Ice...speaks with multiple voices in this book, and it is a pleasure to listen to them. Who knew, for example, that water mixed with the sediment formed by glaciers shoving their way over bedrock is called glacier milk, or that hailstorms, unlike snow or rainfall, are always short? A greater enigma, however, is the voice of the book itself. At times, I felt that its understated tone ran the risk of slumping into flatness...However, all in all, I think this subdued, level-headed tone is actually quite radical. I think it may be the kind of voice we need when we’re talking about ice in a world which seems, as Campbell writes with characteristic understatement, ‘pretty close to ruin.’