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About this book
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Since it was first published by NeWest Press in 1995, this remarkable book has won numerous awards, been published in six countries, and developed a following of rapt and loyal readers. The beginnings of Icefields emerged after Wharton enrolled in 1992 in Rudy Wiebe's creative writing course at the University of Alberta, where Wharton teaches today. Wharton recently caught up with his mentor at a writing symposium held in Toulouse. The teacher and former student shared stories while hiking the Pyrenées, and gave plein-air readings on a mountainside!
At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse...
Nearly sixty feet below the surface, Byrne is wedged upside down between the narrowing walls of a chasm, fighting his desire to sleep. A stray beam of sunlight illuminates the ice in front of him with a pale blue-green radiance. There, embedded in the pure, antediluvian glacier, Byrne sees something that will inextricably link him to the vast yet disappearing bed of ice, and the people who inhabit this strange corner of the world. In this moment, his life becomes a quest to uncover the mystery of the icefield that almost became his tomb. Along the way, he encounters a series of eccentrics, each involved in their own quest: the explorer Freya; the industrialist Trask; the poet Hal; and the slightly mad Elspeth, Byrne's lover.
Within the deceptively simple framework of a tourist guidebook, Icefields takes a breathtaking, imaginative look at the human spirit, loss, myth, and elusive truths. Here is an impressive literary landscape, and an expedition unlike any you have ever experienced.
Thomas Wharton on writing Icefields
“During the writing of this book my wife and I moved to Peace River, six hours north of Edmonton. I had just finished my Master's degree and was an unemployed at-home father in an isolated northern town. I suddenly had lots of time for writing, in between looking after a child all day. That's one reason why the chapters of the novel are so short. In Peace River we lived in a drafty old house. The view out my writing room window in winter showed me a thin slice of the frozen river and a hill called Misery Mountain. Not much of a view, but a very good view for a writer to have, I learned, if he wants to concentrate on writing. That bleak wintry scene forced me back to the page many times. I've never done much mountain climbing. I have no appetite for mortal danger. So I had to imagine a lot of the climbing details in Icefields. Whenever I did a reading from the book, invariably one or two bearded, rugged types would show up, sit at the back and eye me suspiciously. I eventually figured out that these were mountain climbers, and that they had their very own select “club,” which I was not a member of. They would come to my readings to check me out, to figure out who this outsider was who was writing about their world. I took this suspicion as a compliment, that my novel had convinced them I knew what I was talking about.”
Thomas Wharton, October 2007.
"This is an uncommonly beautiful novel. Its final sentence—'I want to show you something rather extraordinary'—might have been its first. Nearly every page gave me something new to marvel at—an image, a gesture, a sudden insight into a character. Like the glacier that haunts its people (and the reader), this novel rears up a shining ice-cathedral of a story, lovely, mysterious, awe-inspiring. By the end, I felt that one small, remarkable piece of Canada had been examined with such penetrating eyes that it had begun to glow with hints of universal truth."