e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

30 Day Book Challenge – day 3: A book that surprised me

There have been a good many books that have surprised me in one way or another. In fact one of the reasons I read is to be surprised.

Surprise endings are in as standard. Surprise settings arise often. I don’t just mean science fiction or fantasy, but also new-to-me information about places and peoples. Surprise snippets leap off the page all the time. Yesterday I was browsing through a book about herbal medicine and came across a description of a herb that the Greeks used to stave off the indigestion they were prone to when eating in front of strangers. I never knew that about the Greeks. They wouldn’t do well in our take-away-eat-in-the-street culture.

The 30 Day Challenge doesn’t specify what kind of surprise nor its quality. Being a positive person I have interpreted it as giving me a nice surprise and also one where the book as a whole surprised.

And so I come to Isvik by Hammond Innes.

I don’t know when Innes started writing, but he seems to have always been hovering in my reading background, taking up considerable shelf space in the library and bookshop.

But I have never read any of his books. I can’t now recall how I developed the idea I wouldn’t like them. I thought them too masculine, his writing style was too simple, there was too much killing and fighting, and the plots were OTT.

But a few months ago I bought Isvik in a charity shop, more or less because I felt I should buy something and it only cost a few pence. Having bought it, I read it. And was very pleasantly surprised.

The central character is a man, but there are several feisty women and they are well drawn. The writing is evocative and clear, and the plot is interesting with many twists and turns.

A scientist on a flight over Antarctica catches a glimpse of a sailing ship trapped in the ice. There is some Isvik cover artdoubt as to whether he really saw something or was deluded, but several people have reasons to want it to be true and to try and locate it. The ‘Isvik’ of the title is the ship that sets off to find whatever the scientist saw.

With a mismatched crew awash with opposing intentions, the journey is made for trouble. And when they reach journey’s end, they find something much worse than they expected.

I was pleased enough to want to read some more Hammond Innes in the future.

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