21st Century,  General Fiction

When Nights were Cold by Susanna Jones

Mantle books was kind enough to send two review copies of some of their best-selling works in exchange for my honest review and thanks to our common passion for Benjamin Black. I am really excited to start this new chapter at Books and Reviews! When Nights were Cold by Susanna Jones is one of those two books.

From Book Depository

In turn of the century London, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But while Grace longs to cross glaciers and survive sub-zero conditions with her hero Ernest Shackleton, she seems destined for nothing more than marriage, or a life shackled to the family home. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent, like-minded women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to be take shape. There she forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with the gregarious suffragette Locke, the reserved and studious Hooper and the strange, enigmatic Parr, and before long the group are defying their times and their families by climbing the peaks of Snowdonia and planning an ambitious trip to the perilous Alps. Fifteen years later, trapped in her Dulwich home, Grace is haunted by the terrible events that took place out on the mountains. She is the society’s only survivor and for years people have demanded the truth of what happened, the group’s horrible legacy a millstone around her neck. Now, as the eve of the Second World War approaches, Grace is finally ready to remember and to confess…

I must admit I started When Nights were Cold without having heard any single word about it or the author. So, for the first time in many years I was reading a book I did not know anything about and that made my reading more exciting. As I got into the setting and the characters, I discovered the turn of the century London through the eyes of an almost-rich girl. I would like to highlight that all the book is narrated by Grace and therefore we only get her point of view and her perception. I am sure her London is not the same London her own mother sees, but this technique only adds up to the importance of points of view (vs. supposed objectivity) in the novel. And, eventually we can only ask ourselves Is Grace a reliable narrator?

I found the characters intriguing, especially that of Grace. All of them stand for a different kind of woman at the time and the way they get, and sometimes clash together shows the tension between them. However, being all of them schoolgirl I could not but have a love-hate relationship with their behavior and how they saw the world: they are passionate, reckless, but also naïve and have too many dreams they want to make true.

The climbing became a little bit tiring at certain moments although I know it is what set the plot in motion. This is the second book in a row I read where the main character faces a physical challenge related to hiking and, to be sincere, it was just too much for me. I am not a big fan of climbing and do not really mind hiking, so it is only my point of view.

The style is that of contemporary fiction with some linguistic references to 1900’s English making it easy and quick to read and the book is divided into chapters creating a kind of addiction (just one more chapter!).

Finally I would like to highlight the book’s intertextuality with Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Not only the name but also being Grace the only survivor who does not remember and wonders whether to confess… there are too many coincidences not to mention them!

I recommend this book to any fan of thrillers in search for an easy yet entertaining read. However, if you like the way Grace’s character works and want a more complex approach, I would also recommend you reading Alias Grace by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. You can read my review here.



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