Cold Earth by Sarah Moss is a dark little novel about a group of archaeologists unearthing a Viking settlement as a pandemic rages in the world beyond.
A team of six archaeologists from the United States, England, and Scotland assembles at the beginning of the Arctic summer to unearth traces of the lost Viking settlements in Greenland. But as they sink into uneasy domesticity, there is news of an epidemic back home, and their communications with the outside world fall away. Facing a Greenland winter for which they are hopelessly ill-equipped, Nina, Ruth, Catriona, Jim, Ben, and Yianni write final letters home, knowing that their missives may never reach their loved ones.
I enjoyed the first three quarters of the novel intensely, with the combination of an unreliable narrator and the possibility of a haunting floating in the background. Sadly, I felt it lost a lot of steam in the last quarter, with an unsatisfying, rushed ending.
I didn’t help that I found many of the characters intensely frustrating. A number of plot points seemed to rely on people deliberately doing the most stupid things possible, and why much of that can be explained by their increasing cabin fever, insanity and the maybe-there-maybe-not viking ghosts, some of it can not.
However, I did find the set-up properly chilling- the concept itself is horrifying, and Sarah Moss writes it well, her prose perfectly encapsulating the isolation, the fear, the anger. Each character has their chance to speak in their own words, and while this is charming, none of the voices are especially distinct from each other. It’s a bit weird when the Christian American sounds almost the same as the Atheist Brit. But still, it is nice to get into everyones heads.
This is a short review, but this book is neither so brilliant I have to gush nor so terrible I have to rant. It’s just a perfectly average book with areas of excellence (the descriptions, the sense of creeping fear) and huge flaws (the plotting).