#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · historical fiction · World War I

Book Review: Ice Letters by Susan Errington

Title: Ice Letters

Author: Susan Errington

Published: May 2nd 2016

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 320

Genres: Fiction, Historical, War

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

A First World War novel of love, peace, violence and Antarctica

Adelaide, 1916, and Dora Somerville grieves for her brother, Edgar, killed in France. In the course of an oppressively hot summer, she decides to abandon her pacifist beliefs and embrace violence as a means to end the Great War.

In his printing shop, her lover, Daniel Bone, also makes a momentous decision. He can no longer face the constant pressure to fight in the war – he will join an Antarctic expedition and abandon Australia, leaving Dora behind. However, the peace Daniel seeks eludes him when he is caught up in a crisis in the icy wilderness as the men find themselves under attack.

When the lovers parted, they had agreed to write to one another, although they knew the letters would never be sent. Thousands of miles apart, their passion grows as the decisions they have made imperil them both.

Review:

Ice Letters is a book set in both Adelaide and Antarctica during the maelstrom of the Great War. Following a grieving typist and a printer, Ice Letters follows the individual pathways of both these key figures as they grapple with the moral ideals of the war. Pensive, considered and emotive, Susan Errington’s release is a novel told with a clear understanding of the impact of war.

Conflicted feelings of war, love, decisions, duty, morality, loyalty, violence and belief fills Ice Letters by Susan Errington. Grounded in the year 1916, we meet Dora, a typist in a state of grief following the loss of her beloved brother Edgar, who was recently killed in the Great War. A bout of soul-searching leads Dora to follow the pacifist regime. Dora’s lover Daniel is also in a state of turmoil. Daniel faces increased pressure to sign up to fight in a war he doesn’t believe in. This leads Daniel to seek a posting far away from Australia’s shores, on a research vessel bound for Antarctica. It is a decision that will remove Daniel from the expectation of war, but it will also take him far away from his sweetheart. But Daniel’s adventure on the icy seas brings danger in a different form. To help ease both lovers through their separation, Daniel and Dora pen a series of letters to one another, but they do not post these communications. As their emotions and feelings for one another compound due to their time apart, the future comes into question.

Susan Errington is an unfamiliar name to me, but it seems I was drawn to something about this story, which I suspect was the Great War setting. My hunger for WWI fiction directed me to this 2016 published title. Ice Letters offered a unique take on the Great War, with its focus on the pacifist direction of this era. The pacifist perspective is rarely considered in wartime fiction, so I valued this alternative viewpoint.

Ice Letters is a literary fiction novel, penned by the author of Olive Street, a debut novel that was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s prize. There is no doubt that the author has a way with words and I felt her prose was very assured. I did find Errington’s novel to be quite slow paced and it took some time to find its feet. Once the book found its own pace I was absorbed in the lives of the characters. We see how Daniel and Dora view the world around them, how they perceive society’s expectations and rebel against the morals of the time. Errington’s Adelaide based setting is brought to life well, as we are plunged into a time of great loss, uncertainty, a lack of faith and confusion. Once Daniel makes the decision to embark upon his mission to Antarctica, the book takes a very different turn. We are faced with moral implications, hard decisions, opinions and peril. Daniel’s expedition highlights that no matter how hard you try to escape one situation, another is set before you to endure.

Linking Dora and Daniel together in this moving war story are the honest letters that are penned by the leads. A decision made to communicate to one another in written form without posting these personal musings was an interesting plot twist. Via Dora and Daniel, who bare their souls in the form of letters, we see another side to the war. I found these letters to be poignant and moving. Ice Letters works to highlight the cathartic value of letters as a form of releasing feelings of regret, guilt and love. In the end, you do hope these two lost individuals will find a way to reconnect.

Ice Letters is a story that illuminates the cost of war for all, from the loved ones left behind in the pits of grief, to those who do not believe in the cause. Susan Errington’s second release is best suited to those who appreciate a literary and critical viewpoint of the war.

Ice Letters by Susan Errington was published on 2nd May 2016 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Ice Letters is book #79 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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