Saturday, May 12, 2012

M.J. McGrath: White Heat

In her debut fictional novel M.J. McGrath takes readers to the far Canadian north, where the nothing is able to rot, therefore, nothing is ever forgotten.

Edie Kiglatuk is a half Inuit, half White hunter and guide on Ellesmere Island in the settlement of Autisaq. Although due to the fact that she is a woman, many of the elders would like to put a stop her practicing these "man" occupations. Edie is on a regular guiding expedition when she hears gun shots off towards camp where she left her charges. Edie returns to camp to find one of her charges shot, dying and the other man unable to handle the situation. Edie does not believe that the shooting was an accident but as she returns home, the elders are determined to sweep the incident under the rug as it could be bad for business to state that the death was possible a murder. This begins Edie's journey into the corruption of the government and Inuit world, where she is the only voice willing to stand up for justice of those who have been deemed to get in the way of "progress".

This was a very interesting read for me. McGrath has done a great amount of research about the Canadian north, from the weather and land scape to the culture and language of the Inuit. I liked that McGrath used Inuit language as well as English when Edie and other Inuit characters interact. McGrath excels in the descriptive nature of the book, she uses fantastic imagery that you will feel like you are on Ellesmere Island (you will have to make sure that you have a sweater near as you are going to feel the cold of the Tundra). I also liked that McGrath used the Inuit way of life to describe what was happening within the investigation or the interaction with nature, the weather, or the past. It was verys interesting to learn just a little bit of the Inuit culture while reading this book.

McGrath is well researched in this topic, though her personal opinion about how the Inuit got to Ellesmere Island and what the Canadian government has done to the Inuit and their culture, is present throughout the book. McGarth is definitely drawing on her discoveries of her non-fiction novel The Long Exile which is a novel about Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic. This is very evident in the voice that is used throughout the novel, from the disdain of Edie the main character about the mayor wanting to revolutionize the village she lives in as well as how McGrath portrays of the RCMP officers as lazy, incompetent, their willingness to sweep things underneath the rug and one of the officers obsession in Lemmings.

Edie was an interesting character, she had the ability at times to be her woman self, but also the hunter self when she need. Edie would pull out the hunter side of her when her own survival depends on it I like that McGrath let Edie have a self destruction side when she was younger and that the need to drink is ever present in her everyday life, which is true for all additions and recovering addicts. Edie was a nice unpredictable character, as you never really knew what path that she was going to take and whether she was going to be pulled back into the destructive nature of alcoholism.

My one main criticism of this book is that it goes through several slow parts, where it can be a struggle to continue reading, but if you push through you are always happy that you continue on. I think the slowness was caused by McGrath attempting to put as much Inuit culture information as possible, that often the story was left behind in these facts and we lost the investigative side of the novel. Additionally, I think in the second half of the book McGrath lost her way a little bit and wanted to put as many red herrings in her novel as possible to start you guessing of who as involved in the murder. I think she was attempting to make up for not having the facts and clues earlier in the book.

This book is for those who want more from a novel than the over sensationalized violence associated with a pile of bodies of a serial killer in the thriller and mystery genres, for these readers White Heat will be a welcome change. McGrath has a way with words and description that you find yourself lost in the imagery throughout the book and you will feel like you are in the Great Canadian North.


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