This book was a Canada Reads selection in 2008, defended by astronaut Steven MacLean. I’m sorry I missed it … then, and pleased that I finished reading Wharton’s debut novel (published in 1995) this morning.  I now want to read everything he’s written since!

I was as intrigued by the story as the author’s writing style, as matter of fact and minimalistic as the opening line, “At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus Glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse.”  The story that follows is about the 25-year quest Dr. Byrne undertakes to determine whether the form of an angel he saw frozen in the ice as he hung, wedged upside down in the narrowing walls of the chasm, fighting hypothermia and awaiting rescue, was real or imagined.  Ned Byrne tells no one why he returns to the ice fields every spring, choosing to live alone in a hut on the ice and painstakingly calculating the position where he hopes to see the angel fall out of the receding glacier onto the rocks one day.

A self-described jigsaw maker, Wharton ignored conventional narrative and put the book together from story fragments he’d amassed, linking all the tales with and through the main protagonist, the cool and distant explorer from England.  “I’ve discovered that’s what works for me,” Wharton says. “Writing as a road of surprises. I have to be surprised too, otherwise it’s not fun.”