Education: Studied at Oxford University, University of Oslo, and Munich University.
Home—Duddon Valley, Cumbria, England. Agent—Anna Webber, PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Held writing fellowships at St. Antony's College, Oxford, England, and St. John's College, Cambridge, England.
The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule, Viking (London, England), 2005, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Inglorious (novel), Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to London Review of Books, Guardian, Observer, Times Literary Supplement, Spectator, Telegraph, and International Herald Tribune.
Author Joanna Kavenna was intrigued by the story of a mythical northern land called Thule, first sighted by the Greek explorer Pytheas in the fourth century before the common era. This land, described as being a six-day sail away from Scotland, continues to elude exact identification. The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule describes Kavenna's journey to find Thule based on historical reports, old Nazi propaganda, linguistic connections, and other sources.
Many critics found much to enjoy in The Ice Museum. Writing in the London Observer, Kelly Grovier lauded Kavenna's "elegant debut," saying that she "has created an enchanting work that transcends conventional genres, full of poise and passion." Paul Watkins, writing for the London Times, similarly called it "compelling" and praised this "beautifully recorded … exceptionally readable narrative." Labeling Kavenna a "natural writer," Nick Smith concluded in Geographical that The Ice Museum "is a dazzling mix of polar history, personal anecdote, and literary erudition."
Kavenna debuted as a novelist with her 2007 work, Inglorious, the story of a woman in the midst of a psychological crisis. Journalist Rosa Lane is thirty-five and on a downward slope after the death of her mother. She embarks on a mock heroic quest to understand her life and is gradually stripped of all attachments, including her lover, her friends, her job, and her stability. In the end Rosa gains a glimpse of a potential form of happiness and seeks to grasp it. Writing in Library Journal, Barbara Love observed, "The question whether Rosa Lane will ever pull it together again is strangely compelling, much like an attention-grabbing train wreck would be." For Booklist reviewer Alison Block, on the other hand, Kavenna's first foray into fiction had a mixed result: "Here [Kavenna] renders crisp, piercing prose in the service of a lackluster plot." A Publishers Weekly critic had a similar assessment, noting that the author is "incisive and funny enough to make Rosa convincingly crazy, but Rosa's repetitive, nonresolving woes give the novel an unpleasant quality." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Sarah Churchwell voiced a similar opinion: "Clearly, Rosa is depressed; unfortunately, Rosa's problem becomes the book's problem." Olivia Laing, however, reviewing Inglorious on the Guardian Online Web site, was more impressed with the novel. Laing termed the work "exuberant," and went on to note that Kavenna takes real chances with her writing: "Kavenna faces the charge of pomposity—worse, she risks alienating her readers with a display of linguistic dexterity that dazzles rather than engages." Laing further noted: "That she succeeds instead in captivating is testament to her sly, self-deprecating wit."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2007, Allison Block, review of Inglorious, p. 22.
Geographical, April, 2005, Nick Smith, review of The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule, p. 68.
Independent (London, England), June 24, 2007, Catherine Taylor, review of Inglorious.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2006, review of The Ice Museum, p. 29.
Library Journal, April 1, 2007, Barbara Love, review of Inglorious, p. 82.
New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2007, Sarah Churchwell, review of Inglorious.
Observer (London, England), February 27, 2005, Kelly Grovier, review of The Ice Museum.
Publishers Weekly, January 2, 2006, review of The Ice Museum, p. 50; April 23, 2007, review of Inglorious, p. 31.
Spectator, March 12, 2005, Paul Binding, review of The Ice Museum, p. 48.
Times (London, England), February 26, 2005, Paul Watkins, review of The Ice Museum.
Times Literary Supplement, June 15, 2007, "Rosa and Nietzsche," p. 21.
Guardian Online,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (June 23, 2007), Olivia Laing, review of Inglorious.
Joanna Kavenna Home Page,http://www.joannakavenna.com (December 2, 2007).
Literary Illusions,http://www.literaryillusions.com/ (March 15, 2007), review of Inglorious.
Peters, Fraser, and Dunlop (PFD) Web site,http://www.pfd.co.uk/ (March 1, 2006), profile of Joanna Kavenna.