Sunny skies and the temperature is sixty degrees because winter is just a blip now, the bulk of it consigned to childhood memory. I’m dragging out the last pages of The North Water, Ian McGuire’s novel about a catastrophic Arctic whaling expedition. I’m reading slowly, not because it’s a slog but because I do not want it to end. I want winter to last a little longer.

McGuire is a hell of a writer. A lean 250 pages, this story rips along in a dignified yet ferocious present tense that details “fetid blasts of butchery” while smudging the lines between man and beast. McGuire has created an exquisite villain in the form of Henry Drax, a harpooner whose intuitive violence begins to make existential sense. “You can’t kill us all,” the captain tells him, to which he replies, “I ‘spect I can kill enough of you though.” And later: “I do as I must. Int a great deal of cogitation involved.”

But the location is the primary draw, with its snow-choked fjords, ice like cracked marble, and temperatures so cold your teeth explode. Polar horror is one of my favorite genres: the temporal dislocation of permanent night, the cosmic vertigo of being at the very top—or bottom—of the world, and claustrophobic outposts populated by characters with sketchy pasts who are running from their sins or searching for salvation. Then comes the inevitable moment when they must depend upon the heat of other bodies to survive, and once they leave the distressed ship or bunker, there’s a lot of room to go crazy.

And snow. All that snow covering god only knows.

The North Water joins Dan Simmons’s The Terror among my favorite polar horror stories. And there’s a fine television version of The North Water with Colin Farrell as evil incarnate. Viewing-wise, there’s also the bonkers Fortitude, the slow burn of Trapped, and the first seasons of The Terror and The Head. A verdict is still pending re: True Detective: Night Country.

Any recommendations for other polar horror tales would be much appreciated, especially now that a snowy winter feels more and more like a strange memory.

Ben Chatwin – Snow Crash

The Hum | Village Green, 2020 | Bandcamp