‘I’ve been asked to talk to you about what happened, in addition to the report that I’ve written. The content of that report is the reason that you’ve asked to speak to me.’
She said. Then nodded.
‘Have patience,’ one of them outside the interview room said. The lawyer. Her lawyer. ‘She’s been assessed for traumatic stress disorders. She’s still working to piece things together. Well. The timeline, at least.’
‘You’re not afraid to come out,’ the voice says. ‘After all the shit you’ve given us, you can’t be afraid to come out.’
It’s so placid, the voice. It neither rises nor falls like a living thing would. He makes no attempt not to be overheard. (By whom, exactly? Who might overhear him?) It strikes her that this is the first time he’s said anything while standing outside the cabin door. It only confirms what she’s known all along.
But it’s odd that she can’t work out which of them it is.
‘Nothing’s going to happen to you here, you know. Whore. Nothing’s going to happen to you that you haven’t been asking for. Haven’t wanted. You know that. You’ve been begging for it since the moment you stepped on board.’
She’d thought about the doors before.
Later, once things are over and she’s heading away from it all, she finds herself flying in a Dash 8 aircraft from Tasiilaq to Nuuk. The Greenland ice beneath her is such a brilliant white that she needs to wear sunglasses just to look out of the plane windows.
Now and then they fly over turquoise pools, which in reality must be enormous lakes scattered across the expansive mass of ice, but at altitude resemble only eyes against the backdrop of white. Context is everything (she assumes). They might have resembled precious gemstones. She might have been reminded of the iridescent shimmer of mother-of-pearl, rather than those watery eyes watching her. They continue to stare at her long after the plane has passed over them. They won’t let go.
On the approach into Nuuk she’s invited into the cockpit. Jagged, grey mountain peaks hurl themselves up into the sky…
Macular degeneration of the eyes. She is reminded of the blue-ish, milky retinas of sick horses.
She is alone on the aircraft, apart from the pilots and a female stewardess named Dorte whose father is Danish. Dorte asks if she can get her anything.
‘Vodka,’ she replies. ‘With orange juice?’
‘Sorry,’ Dorte replies. ‘We’ve only got baguettes. Cheese and ham.’
They’re wrapped in plastic. Taste like the plastic that surrounds them. They’ve been chilled for far too long.
She feels isolated with the propellers and the ice, a rhythm she’s become accustomed to, in some ways.
On the approach into Nuuk she’s invited into the cockpit. Jagged, grey mountain peaks hurl themselves up into the sky; they make a mockery of Norway, but she knows the horizon only appears quite so dramatic because of the landscape that surrounds it, a vista that lacks features of any kind at elevation.
She is unable to recall the uniforms the pilots were wearing. Better that than to forget the mountains.
They stayed at the Ishavshotel in Tromsø. She gave her name. The girl at reception keyed it in. The key card is slipped into its little sleeve and, with a gentle nudge, it glides towards her like a curling stone skimmed gracefully across the counter of blue pearl granite with one smooth, well-rehearsed sweep. The receptionist smiles.
‘Breakfast is served from seven o’clock,’ the receptionist says. ‘We have those energy shots. They’re good. Very refreshing. What are they called again? Those little shot glasses. Like smoothies, you know. Ginger and orange. Lime and kiwi. A real boost. Antioxidants, you know the ones.’
The hotel looks modern, but the lift seems outdated; lots of brass, mirrors at every angle. The carpets and wallpaper remind her of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.
The house she’d grown up in had the same aesthetic. Yellow ochre panelling. A new build at the edge of a plot where the back end of the property sloped down towards a hollow planted with pine trees. Coving where ceiling and wall met in the living room. Green walls. Yellow walls. A stable upbringing.
This will be her first ever voyage to the West Ice… Inexperienced. Alone…
Her mother had planned on redecorating the room. The kitchen, too, for that matter, but that was before her father’s heart attack. It had come on like infarction so often does: suddenly. Unexpectedly. Her mother decided not to change anything because it might confuse their father. Make him feel unsettled. Remove him from memory, and with that, remove him from them. Better to delay the redecorating until his rehabilitation took effect.
But his condition never did improve, and one day an estate agent would enter the house and describe it as well-maintained, if dated. Is that even a word?
When she says they, she means she and her supervisor Håvard, who accompanies her the evening before the hunting vessel is due to leave. This will be her first ever voyage to the West Ice.
It was Håvard who spoke on behalf of the Directorate of Fisheries after events. It was he who was questioned about whether the directorate felt it had been justifiable sending out a young, female inspector. Inexperienced. Alone. Six weeks on the periphery of Greenland with men she didn’t know. Her first ever voyage.
They had felt it had been.
The situation could not have been anticipated, not unless you assumed the worst of people, or allowed yourself to be influenced by prejudice.
And she thought herself better than that.
The drizzle leaves tiny droplets on their foreheads. Håvard has booked a table at a seafood restaurant by the harbour and all the way there he talks about a local seafood delicacy, mølje with cod liver and roe.
She asks him about the inspector’s report.
‘There’s not much to it,’ he replies. ‘Not as long as you keep notes throughout. Ammunition discharged. Number of animals killed. Number of animals injured. If you stick to the tick boxes on the form, you can keep it brief. You can add notes in the text boxes if there’s any need.’
What do ‘brief’ and ‘thorough’ mean in this instance? How are you supposed to know which to choose? What counts as detail here? What is unimportant?
Håvard has invited a seasoned inspector to join them for dinner, partly to share his experience and partly for any “insider tips” he might have to offer. He uses air quotes as he says the words.
The inspector is already seated with a pint at one of the tables in the half-empty premises when they arrive. Håvard slaps him on the shoulder and appears thirty years his junior. She gives her name.
She doesn’t catch his name, at least not at this point. Only the day-old scent of the man.
‘Is this who you’re sending out with Arentz?’ he asks. He’s still holding onto her hand – she senses that his hand clasped around hers is intended to convey some kind of message – but he turns to face Håvard. ‘If that’s the case you’ll be needing a new job title. Inspectress! That would work.’
A little later that evening he tells her something about the man she’ll be sailing with, which also happens to be the only thing he says that isn’t about himself.
In the years that follow, she frantically googles herself with each week that passes
‘Peder Anker Arentz’, he says. ‘No, I haven’t been out hunting with him, but you know him, don’t you, Lange?’
Lange is Håvard’s surname.
‘A reliable chap. An expert on polar conditions. A researcher, too.’
‘Oh,’ she blurts out. ‘Where has he been published? I couldn’t find anything when I looked him up.’
The inspector casts an oblique glance at her over the rim of his glass, which he has placed back on top of the same damp ring on the table with each swig he has taken. ‘Published?’
‘A researcher surely needs to publish their findings somewhere?’
‘Perhaps in Oslo,’ the inspector replies.
It is hardly as if Håvard misses the signals. Old school, he explains on the way back to the hotel, though he made no mention of the fact that the inspector had emphasised never having actually hunted with Arentz.
There was no mølje to be had, either. Just monkfish with chorizo. Catfish and fennel purée.
In the years that follow, she frantically googles herself with each week that passes, she can’t let things go. It all comes to a climax when her report is first mentioned in the local press, and thereafter in the national newspapers, and eventually on television. During that period, she mostly sits at home; it is as if her fingers are permanently fidgeting and she feels compelled to nod her head a certain number of times if she wants to get up out of her chair. It’s much the same when the case goes up before the district court.
And it is here that he appears once again. She comes across the inspector’s name in a discussion thread about the case on a forum for hunters, where he regurgitates the same misogynistic bile that he had aimed at her that evening at the restaurant, though this time with increasingly triumphant zeal.
As a former seal hunt inspector (the first to submit a reliable report!), I naturally have a few opinions on this case.
Perhaps we ought to re-introduce a job title favoured back in the day – “inspectress”! This inspector was a woman, and clearly a young woman without a sense of humour – at least when it came to the male crew’s banter, which seemed to offend her so terribly!
The names of the inspectress and the skipper have been made public. The skipper is widely regarded as one of our foremost experts (and a researcher, no less) on polar conditions – on the contrary, I am unable to find any information about the inspectress, other than the fact she studied veterinary medicine and registered a company upon her return (unscathed, no less!) from her terrifying pirate voyage.
In all likelihood, this case boils down to one thing: it is all well and good that we require students applying to veterinary medicine to have good academic grades, but this alone does not guarantee that a (fresh) graduate has the proper knowledge and expertise of hunting in practice.
In the end, she googles this inspector’s name more frequently than her own.
Tor Even Svanes grew up in grew up in Tjøme, Norway. He debuted in 2006 with ‘Den andre sønnen’, a wide-ranging historical novel set in Sardinia in the years preceding the Second World War, and followed this up in 2011 with ‘Hotel Eldorado’, a novel in which various elements of post-war Norway are woven together. ‘To the West Ice’ is his third novel.
Rosie Hedger is a freelance translator from Norwegian into English. Her translation of Agnes Ravatn’s ‘The Bird Tribunal’ won an English PEN Translates Award in 2016, with the book selected for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. Having lived in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Rosie is now based in the UK.
Editor’s note: This excerpt from ‘To the West Ice’ (Til Vestisen; Cappelen Damm, 2016) has been republished with kind permission from the translator and the publisher. All rights remain with the original author.