Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir

Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir - Jean McNeil

Although the synopsis describes it as a memoir, but “Ice Diaries” is more than that, or at least it tries to be. Much more science and detail-heavy than promised, the book nonetheless strives to introduce the reader to the Antarctic lifestyle in all its vastness, both the exciting parts that deal with how people interact and the social lives they lead, to the more complex and at times frustrating, the descriptions of machinery or procedures and protocol. The book brings out the distinction between the science-oriented and the humanities-oriented readers significantly, but does an admirable job at attempting to mediate between them, providing now only the author’s thoughts and personal background but also adding that realistic depth to the events.


It is with the first aspect that the main problems with the book are tied to. The order and shifts in narrative aren’t the greatest. It took some time to realize that the “bookend” of each chapter was dealing with the author’s earlier life, describing her situation with her grandparents, her mother, and later the appearance of her father. It was a good attempt but not entirely a successful one, sticking out from the rest of the book in a way that made this earlier personal narrative feel more like a possibility for a separate memoir.


It also felt like the enthusiasm and engagement of the author with her own writing. The pacing gradually gets choppier – the reader isn’t left with a way in which to evaluate her father, for instance. There is the sudden jumping around in time that occurs in the last 10% or so of the book, particularly with the brief introduction of the character of Loki. While it’s easy to understand the sentiments and how they relate to the theme of the Antarctic and ice, part such as the Loki memory stood out and made it difficult to evaluate the book as a whole.


It was a much longer and slower read than I anticipated, and there were times when the attention span would rebel against me. Still, I got through it and enjoyed it as a whole, although I didn’t quite agree with the structuring. Nor did I think the impact of the narrative was as strong as it could’ve been. It’s a big positive that “Ice Diaries” isn’t a modern-day take on the old adventure logs that used to be kept by European explorers. But neither does it exactly live up to being that gripping and moving hybrid creature that it strove to be.