Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir

McNeil, Jean

  • What do we stand to lose in a world without ice?

    A decade ago, novelist and short story writer Jean McNeil spent a year as writer-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and four months on the world’s most enigmatic continent — Antarctica. Access to the Antarctic remains largely reserved for scientists, and it is the only piece of earth that is nobody’s country. Ice Diaries is the story of McNeil’s years spent in ice, not only in the Antarctic but her subsequent travels to Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard, culminating in a strange event in Cape Town, South Africa, where she journeyed to make what was to be her final trip to the southernmost continent.

    In the spirit of the diaries of Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, McNeil mixes travelogue, popular science, and memoir to examine the history of our fascination with ice. In entering this world, McNeil unexpectedly finds herself confronting her own upbringing in the Maritimes, the lifelong effects of growing up in a cold place, and how the climates of childhood frame our emotional thermodynamics for life. Ice Diaries is a haunting story of the relationship between beauty and terror, loss and abandonment, transformation and triumph.


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  • Jean McNeil is the author of ten books including four novels and a collection of short fiction. Her work has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Journey Prize, and she has won the Prism International prize for short fiction and subsequently for narrative non-fiction. She is the co-director of the Masters in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia and lives in London, England.

  • Published: March 2016

    ISBN: 9781770413184

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 384

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Ice Diaries is stunningly written and should be on the shelf of anyone fascinated by the globe’s final geographic and psychic frontier.”— New York Times

Ice Diaries artfully conveys both the magical allure and the deadly hauteur of this icy world that few of us will ever see.” — Toronto Star

“McNeil’s gripping book, a memoir of her stint as ‘the writer’ during an Antarctic summer, is a vivid depiction of the human community in the ‘granite quarry-crossed-with-a-penal-colony’ of a polar base camp. This sci-fi landscape is suffused with menace and foreboding but so, McNeil remembers, is home.” — The Guardian Best Books of 2018

“The first and undoubtably most successful part is the descriptive writing about the landscape of Antarctica and the conditions of life on a base there. . . It is this type of descriptive writing which is the real strength of the book. It's interesting to learn the details of a scientific expedition under extreme conditions, of course, but it is the Antarctic we want to visualize, and we can, though McNeil's remarkable writing.” – The Fiddlehead

“She writes about the loneliness, the fear, the utter darkness, and the rare an d incredible beauty of places few of us will ever visit. Highly recommended.” — For the Love of Books

“McNeil is a tremendous writer who brings the Antarctic landscape to life with the deftness of her prose, and her memoir is rich with fascinating details.” — Pickle Me This

“It’s a discussion of the Antarctic as a physical landscape — its impact on the imagination — and an exploration of one person’s inner world.” — Chicago Tribune

“McNeil’s first-person narrative of her experience wholly absorbs. . . Most of Ice Diaries, however, reads like a novel. It’s a paradox: the best novels emulate real life and the best true stories emulate fiction.” — Maclean’s

“[McNeil's] new book is a welcome literary-minded addition to a category of books dominated by male explorers.” — Metro

“A uniquely personal and honest response to an extreme environment few of us will ever experience.” — The Herald

“The reason I picked this book up was because I love that combination of geography, history and science but from a writer’s perspective. . . All in all this was a varied and enjoyable read.” — Books Are a Uniquely Portable Magic

“In Ice Diaries, McNeil brings the austere beauty and the constant danger of the continent to life. Weaving science and narrative, she draws vivid portraits of the people who are drawn to the unforgiving continent and the importance of the research conducted in the world’s icy places. Her descriptions of the ships and bases, those thin membranes against the elements, are unforgettable. . . Ice Diaries is a rare glimpse at an elusive continent and a haunting story of the relationship between beauty and terror, loss and abandonment, transformation and triumph.” —