Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clare Dudman, scientist and novelist

Tomorrow my virtual book tour goes to Keeper of the Snails, the blog of novelist Clare Dudman. I have just finished reading Clare's amazing novel, Wegener's Jigsaw. Although few have now heard of him, Alfred Wegener was the scientist and Arctic explorer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century first conceived of and proposed the idea of Continental Drift, the notion which is now at the heart of accepted theories of Plate Tectonics. The novel takes the form of a journal or memoir, written towards the end of Wegener's life, charting the birth of his scientific consciousness as a child in late-nineteenth-century Berlin, his experiments such as those with balloons, his experiences in the trenches in the first world war, and above all his treacherous expeditions across the icy wastes of Greenland.

Clare was once a science journalist, and it shows, yet at the same time she has a novelist's poetic empathy: the journey she takes us on is psychological as well as scientific and geographic, as we share in the moments when Wegener's insights come to him - the great folds of ice and bent icicles on the floor of an Arctic ice cave suggesting massive pressures and things on the move - and in the emotional trauma of his war experience and the disappointment as his theories are rejected by the scientific community.

And the descriptions of the Arctic environment! For the nights while I have been reading this book, there have been snowflakes and ice floes and wide white wastes in my dreams...

And before I had finished it, I sneaked a peek at her second novel, 98 Reasons For Being, about a Jewish girl taken in 1850s Frankfurt for treatment for 'nymphomania' to Heinrich Hoffmann, the physician and famed author of Struwwelpeter. It looks inventive and very psychological, and therefore right up my street!

I see from Clare's website that she travelled extensively to research both these novels, and for the new one which is due from Seren, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees, about the nineteenth-century Welsh settlers in Patagonia.

I am in awe.


adele said...

98 reasons for being is super! I'm sure you'll love it. Will go and visit Clare's blog when you're being interviewed there.

Clare Dudman said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! And thank you Adele! You're bot very kind.

And thank you for saying I was a science journalist - sadly, I've never been that glamorous. Just a plain research scientist, I'm afraid... in a dirty labcoat. (It was really good though!).

Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, that's even more exciting, as far as I'm concerned!