It was the title that attracted me to this before anything else! I mean …. you don’t really imagine the words ‘arctic’ and ‘curry’ as being comfortable bedfellows, do you? So I was intrigued to find out just what was going on here.
The story revolves around Maya, a young woman without a lot of self confidence or self-awareness. Having mixed Indian and British parentage, but being brought up mainly in England by her father after her mother passes away in India when she’s just 7 years old, Maya has never quite known where she belongs. So when her boyfriend Ryan is offered the opportunity of his dreams, monitoring polar bears in the Arctic, without much thought, she says she’ll go with him. She feels like she’s ‘someone when she’s part of a couple and isn’t sure what she’ll do if he leaves and she stays behind.
But Maya has no idea what she’s getting herself into. This is Ryan’s dream, not hers, and as much as he tries to prepare her for the Arctic, it’s impossible to know what it’s like until you’re actually there, Maya is shocked at the unrelenting darkness that prevails for the duration of winter, and absolutely nothing can shield her from the continually invasive, inescapable, icy cold. It doesn’t take long before the anxiety that Maya has lived with for most of her life starts to get the better of her and for her to start withdrawing into herself and retreating from Ryan. She’s unable to participate in the activities he seems to be enjoying, which are quite athletic and mostly outdoors-y, and he comes across as extremely selfish and self-absorbed. There were more than a few times when I was tempted to run him over with a bobsled!
During a trip to Bangalore to attend the wedding of her father to her late mother’s best friend, Maya’s anxiety remains, threatening to overwhelm her, even though she does her best not to show her father how unsettled she’s feeling. She really wants to enjoy the time she spends there with him and wants to get to know his new wife as she only has very vague memories of her from when her mother was alive. However, during her visit she becomes extremely disturbed and upset, realizing that there are most definitely some secrets that are being kept from her, many of which have to do with her mother’s death. She leaves Bangalore on bad terms with her father, anxious to return to a place that isn’t even home and feeling even more displaced than ever.
What transpires on Maya’s return is where the story truly comes alive! Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a light, frothy read about someone who moves to a new place and enjoys cooking her mom’s recipes! This is a story of many layers, dealing with many complex, relevant issues: toxic relationships, narcissism, mental illness, anxiety, depression, self-discovery and the way that people react and behave when they feel they’re being constantly judged by others. If anything, it’s a reminder to think before making assumptions about the people we meet and to rather reserve judgement instead of instantly judging harshly and treating people unkindly based on what we don’t know, rather than what we do know!
The author’s descriptions of the arctic conditions are so vivid that the Arctic itself almost becomes like another character. I could almost feel how Maya felt: so isolated and desperate in the smothering darkness, and the relentless, glacial cold. Similarly, with her depiction of Bangalore and the food that Maya started to familarise herself with, I wanted to imagine that I could smell the aroma’s of those dishes wafting under my nose! No wonder I constantly felt hungry!
This is a highly recommended 4 star read. It’s a wonderful book – and difficult to believe it’s a debut from this talented author. I look forward to reading more from her.
Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC. This book will be available from 9 December 2021.