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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > JANUARY FEBRUARY 2017 > The big chill

The big chill

Ed O’Loughlin’s new novel about the Franklin expedition serves to deepen mysteries rather than solve them

FICTION

Minds of Winter

Ed O’Loughlin

House of Anansi Press

WHEN THE wrecks of the expeditionary ships HMS Erebus and Terror, lost while searching for the Northwest Passage in the mid–19th century, were finally discovered (in 2014 and 2016, respectively), the events marked the final mapping of some of the most mysterwious geography of the Canadian subconscious.

The fate of the Franklin expedition is one of this country’s founding cultural myths, its very mysteriousness adding to its historical resonance. At the end of Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds of Winter, the two main characters – Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan – watch a news story on television in a bar in Inuvik. The bartender responds to the news of the Erebus’s discovery in a manner that goes a long way to summing up the novel’s theme: “So that’s the end of that,” he says bitterly. “HMS Erebus. They had to go and find her. They had to solve a perfectly good mystery.”

What makes a mystery “perfectly good” is its power to inspire and work upon our imaginations. The search for Franklin’s missing ships did more to map the Arctic than Franklin himself ever could have on his own. And the mystery of what happened to his expedition has been an abiding subject in Canadian arts and letters. If the history of exploration is the story of a shrinking world, Franklin’s expedition offered, in O’Loughlin’s formulation, “something magical, a hole in the map, an escape from dull causality.”

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