Ice is the frozen state of water, one of the simplest forms in existence. ‘It is formed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom, in a shape that resembles the letter “v”.’ But, simple or not, ‘its behaviour bewilders me,’ writes Campbell.
The Library of Ice is an exploration of that bewilderment, an exploration of solid water – heuristically, scientifically and culturally. The result is a subtle, rich, dense, marvellous compendium that takes in much that ice has affected, melded to or covered in its frosted rime. From the Arctic scientists drilling out ice cores hundreds of thousands of years old and learning to read their meaning; to the artist who personalised an Icelandic glacier by creating a telephone number people could call to be linked up to a microphone buried deep inside its creaking crevices; via lost Victorian polar explorers; an extant Greenlandic hunter; and a 5,000-year-old man recently discharged from the ice in Switzerland.
It’s a different type of adventure travel; one often spent in libraries, and as much about a roaming mind as a more embodied form of journeying. Everything is viewed through Campbell’s poetic lens. She notes how the Inuit word for re-using coffee grounds or tea leaves – kinguneqartarpoq – encapsulates the contemporary experience of eking out a living hunting on the desolate landscape, and that ‘somewhere in Antarctica, the snow that may never melt is falling’. It’s a reminder that poetry is its own form of travel, a valuable tour through perspectives and metaphor.
At times the text feels almost too bookish, a bit like being beset by ice, but then the pages layer up, accrete, to create their own soft, tready substance, and you realise The Library is a slow act of devotion and a modern-day medicine of sorts.
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