“Shiver: A Novel” by Nikki Gemmell

I’m sure that Shiver isn’t news to most readers; Nikki Gemmell’s first novel has been around for over a decade. But I only picked this up myself today for $3.00 at an op-shop. It’s my guilty pleasure. when I’ve shuffled around housemates and bills and bank deposits, and I have picked up (and forgotten) some groceries, I cross the road to the local Salvos and check out the books. I started indulging when they had good old pulpy SF&F for 50 cents each, but recently a lot of people with perhaps slightly better taste than my own have been planting some very good books.

So here is my first encounter with Shiver. It’s the Books Alive printing. The text is fat and black and heavy, and on some pages spotty and vague from the printer’s. Like any Vintage cover art, It’s wonderful, and means something far more to the reader once the book is finished.

The story is that of a young woman who is the only journalist on a trip to the Antarctic stations to drop off researchers, workers, and supplies. There’s a lot of intensity with the interpersonal relationships, and internal dialogue. Tense is subjective to tone and pacing, and short sentences felt like short news articles. The entire novel feels silent in my mind; I can’t envision the voices of any other characters, and the entire effect has left me feeling as if I’d paused in the early morning of the desert to reflect on the past; as if the long travels and vivid experiences that form the bulk of the novel are being filtered through distance and time and the vagueness of memories.

What really struck me was how tied into landscape the emotions of the book are. It is heart and soul and plot device and home all at once, and the setup for some repetition and climactic moments is incredibly well integrated. My favourite line is on the first page, and it captures the language, the persona of the narrator, and the imagery and feel of it for me: “The meanest motherfucking desert of them all has given me an addiction for wide lands and tall skies and air that hums.

The power and connection between place, landscape, weather and self is overwhelming at times. I experienced several of my own moments of resonance with the narrator’s descriptions of and reactions to her surroundings. I’m curious to see if landscapes are as vivid in Gemmell’s other work, or if it was simply tied into the nature of the Antarctic and the story that was being told.


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