Whether a pandemic or the effects of global warming pose the more serious threat to man's sojourn on earth, Sarah Moss assembles a team of archeologists from England, Scotland and the US to face their own test in a tale of psychological suspense in a dramatic landscape where winter is uninhabitable. The team of archeologists has arrived in Greenland's arctic summer to catalog tracings of lost Viking settlements. In alternating chapters, each character narrates the experience, the interactions of the members as they perform their appointed tasks and the gradual deterioration of camaraderie that settles over the camp. Echoes of the Viking's turbulent past are felt more substantively by Nina, who has left a boyfriend behind to accompany her friend, Yanni, the leader of the expedition.
Form the first, Nina is haunted by eerie dreams, the howls of fear, the screams of battle and the blood-soaked fields of snow covered in mutilated bodies. In contrast to Nina's unprofessional behavior, Ruth is capable and precise, shielding the loss of her loved one from the others and resistant to Nina's increasing hysteria, her growing insistence that they are not alone. Catriona, an artist at heart, falls in love with the ice, how she might translate it on canvas; Ben, from the north of England, says little and Jim, an American, relies on his Christian faith for the strength to endure a growing dread when the internet reports a spreading pandemic before all communication with the outside world is cut off.
With decreasing food supplies and the stress of sleeplessness as Nina's screams rend the night, the group struggles to retain focus, worries of home nagging everyone as they hunker down to the daily tasks Yanni assigns. The true drama comes from unsettled minds prey to Nina's increasingly erratic behavior and her obsession that they are being watched. The days pass, relationships more fragmented as hopes of any communication with home is shattered. It is this internal territory where trouble brews, each susceptible to the chaos of Nina's unraveling in spite of their best efforts to remain calm.
Nina's vivid dreams imbue the expedition with growing dread, her constant harping on the Greenlander's vulnerability to attack, her warnings that the dead have been disturbed and are agitated by the archeologist's work. What better way to fuel erratic behavior than the possibility of being stranded in a frozen land with no rescue and ghosts all about them? The psychological theme is Cold Earth's strongest appeal, the sad last letters home a sign that hope has gradually been extinguished. Worldwide catastrophe is more tolerable than the reality of spending whatever time remains without food or the comfort of loved ones, these modern students enamored of the past but unable to cope with the diminished futures they so cherished. Luan Gaines/2011.