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Minds of Winter

by Ed O’Loughlin
read by Bill Webster

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literary, historical
list price: $34.99
also available: Paperback eBook
category: Fiction
published: 2017
imprint: Anansi Audio
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Historic fiction in a conspiracy frame story

Remarkable work of historical fiction. Intricate in structure, convincing and meticulous in detail, and surprisingly engrossing in character, this novel avoids typical plot, organization, and closure in favour of more challenging choices.

The modern-day frame story is of two lost souls in the high Canadian Arctic and, oddly, a historic marine chronometer. Nelson's brother (recent) and Faye's grandfather (long past) went missing in the area - but they're not there on a Dan Brown-esque mystery-thriller search for the truth. This case of missing, confused, and obfuscated identities resists such tidy progressions. Instead, the unlikely couple stumble their way into uncertain discoveries of questionable validity based on documents left behind by Nelson's apparently-missing brother. This modern day progression is interspersed with "found" documents and firsthand accounts of explorers, adventurers, and secret-history-movers of the last two centuries prodding at the edges of the unknown on journeys that range from Australia to the Arctic and very nearly everywhere in between. The dots don't connect - or maybe they do - but the real surprise is how enjoyable the ride is.

I don't usually enjoy fiction that lacks the classic rise-and-fall story arc or that evade neatly-wrapped endings, but the unconventional format of this book somehow worked for me. Strong research, a talent for authentic(-seeming) voice, and telling details bring to life far-flung locations and eras long since passed. I couldn't keep track of the location, time, character, and (potential, suggested, unconfirmed) links between the jumps for most of the book - and in fact, once I thought I'd worked out the trajectory, this book happily dumped the drawer upside down on me once more. In effect, the experience is like reading a loosely-linked series of short stories or historic records. I'm not sure if it's the inherently fraught circumstances of so many of the players, the exotically far-reaching locales, or the promise of a mystery to untangle, but this dense, interwoven narrative completely held my attention. Highly recommended read.

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  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
  • Long-listed, The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
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A finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Minds of Winter is a mesmerizing novel about the chance meeting of two present-day travellers who expose one of the most perplexing mysteries in the history of Arctic exploration.

Fay Morgan and Nelson Nilsson have each arrived in Inuvik, Canada, about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Both are in search of answers about a family member: Nelson for his estranged older brother, and Fay for her vanished grandfather. Driving Fay into town from the airport on a freezing January night, Nelson reveals a folder left behind by his brother. An image catches Fay’s eye: a clock she has seen before. Soon Fay and Nelson realize that their relatives have an extraordinary and historic connection — a secret share in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of polar expedition. This is the riddle of the “Arnold 294” chronometer, which reappeared in Britain more than a hundred years after it was lost in the Arctic with the ships and men of Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition. The secret history of this elusive timepiece, Fay and Nelson will discover, ties them and their families to a journey that echoes across two centuries.

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Contributor notes

Ed O’Loughlin is an Irish Canadian author and journalist. His first novel, Not Untrue and Not Unkind, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. His second novel, Toploader, was published in 2011. House of Anansi published his third novel, Minds of Winter, in spring of 2017, which was long-listed for the Sir Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

As a journalist, Ed reported from Africa for several papers, including the Irish Times. He was the Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age of Melbourne. Ed was born in Toronto and raised in Ireland. He now lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.

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Editorial Review

“A tour de force.” — Kirkus Reviews
“[A] complex tale of historical intrigue about 19th-century polar explorers.” — Publishers Weekly
Minds of Winter is a profound ode to land, legend and love… . beautifully drawn and expertly told, Minds of Winter is gripping from the start.” — National Post
“Bright moments from the distant past spring up beside dark moments from the present, things hidden – a death, a gift, a lost clock – come briefly into view and then disappear forever. In Minds of Winter, Ed O’Loughlin’s brilliant story of polar exploration, time itself is an Arctic: a mysterious dimension of sun craze and apparitions, chance encounters and destiny. The mechanism of this novel is fascinating to observe, its implications are deeply human. In O’Loughlin’s work, our desire for knowledge, our obsession with the past, our grappling with life itself … all of it is generously, wittily on display.” — Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury Citation
“Hugely ambitious…[O’Loughlin] displays a prodigious imagination.” — Globe and Mail
Minds of Winter is a remarkable feat of imagination, empathy, and research. Past and present merge to convey the polar landscape’s immense mysteries, and the lives of those voyagers compelled to seek answers in its icy expanses. Ed O’Loughlin is a skilled cartographer of both the Arctic and the human heart. What a magnificent novel.” — Ron Rash, author of Serena and Above the Waterfall
“Readers who delight in history and mystery mixed together will appreciate O’Loughlin’s shifting drifts of reality and imagination.” — Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“Few novelists have the temerity to offer up mystery, suspense, adventure, and a famous historical puzzle in a single novel. Ed O’Loughlin does so in Minds of Winter, and takes the reader to the ends of the earth in the process.” — Robert Hough, author of The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan and Dr. Brinkley’s Tower
“[A] masterly, richly researched, vastly ranging tale” — Toronto Star
Minds of Winter proves to be an exhilarating romp through the age of polar exploration … like the search for Franklin himself, Minds of Winter is a story of death and glory, loss and triumph and, ultimately, the mighty power of the imagination in the face of unrelenting struggle.” — Winnipeg Free Press
“In both concept and execution the novel is a serious piece of work at once vastly entertaining and ambitious on a scale that leaves much of contemporary Irish fiction looking woefully insubstantial … there will be few better historical novels published this year.” — Sunday Times
“[A] marvel of a novel.” — Irish Independent
“The writing is stupendously good … O’Loughlin manages beautifully.” — The Australian

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About the Authors

Ed O’Loughlin

ED O’LOUGHLIN is an Irish Canadian author and journalist. He is the author of three novels, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Minds of Winter,the critically acclaimed Toploader, andthe Booker Prize–longlisted Not Untrue and Not Unkind. As a journalist, Ed has reported from Africa for several papers, including the Irish Times. He was the Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age of Melbourne. Ed was born in Toronto and raised in Ireland. He now lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.

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