This compelling environmental horror story should stop us in our tracks

Brief reviews of: Iceapelago by Peter Brennan; The Dressing Up Box by David Constantine; Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium by Lucy Jane Santos

British poet and writer David Constantine

British poet and writer David Constantine

 

Iceapelago
By Peter Brennan
iceapelago.com, £10.99
At the outset of any decent disaster narrative, members of the global scientific community start to notice anomalies and Dr Peter Brennan’s first novel is no different. Researchers in the Canary Islands, scientists on the Greenland ice sheet and the crew of a manned submersible off Ireland’s continental shelf begin to detect an impending environmental catastrophe and Iceapelago, a group of islands surrounded by ice, is formed. These days, any fiction title tackling the concept and consequences of climate change (and our seemingly eternal capacity to ignore them) doesn’t have the luxury of a fictional outlook. These narratives depend on being backed up by quantifiable research and Brennan excels in this; his book is authoritative in its tone and content, if a little lacking in storytelling finesse. A compelling environmental horror story that should stop us in our collective tracks. – Becky Long

The Dressing Up Box
By David Constantine
Comma Press, £9.99
It seems sometimes that poets have an easier time with the short story medium than others might. This is especially true for David Constantine, the celebrated British poet and writer. Gifted with the ability to arrest his reader with powerful yet understated imagery, any new collection from Constantine is an occasion and his latest is no exception. A group of children are traumatised by their wartime experiences, the horrors of racism throb through quiet conversations; grief unfolds in whispers between friends. These are intense emotional vignettes, powerful precisely because of their unsettling quality, offering, as all well-crafted short stories should, a momentary insight into a world that cannot possibly be captured in words, but must instead be relayed in textures, gestures, moments. Compelling and luminous, these stories ask much of the reader but offer even more in return. – Becky Long

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium
By Lucy Jane Santos
Icon Books, £16.99
We’re all radiophobes today in the sense that we’re wary of artificial radioactivity but this book is about a time when it was revered, not feared. Of the radioactive elements discovered in the late 19th century, radium had the greatest impact and became “the focus of public fascination and of entrepreneurial zeal”. Thermal-spa centres; mineral salts; bottled water; glow-in-the-dark paint for watches and clocks; skin creams and a host of beauty, anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle products; health-ray lamps; bulbs; tablets; and toothpaste, all proclaimed the benefits of their radium-containing products. Cigarettes, shoe dye and even condoms claimed to contain it, although they didn’t and bogus products such as Radol claimed cures for cancer, consumption and TB. The story of this supposed cure-all in everyday 20th century life is fascinating and well told. – Brian Maye

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