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Alicia Kopf: 'I wanted to turn old-fashioned, masculine epics upside down'

Brother in Ice is a form-busting novel that pairs a history of polar exploration with the story of an artist and her autistic sibling. The author reveals the real life behind her imaginative adventures

Brother in Ice is a novel (or is it?) that explores the history of polar expeditions, using them to examine a woman’s personal and artistic life, as well as her brother’s autism. The premise is convoluted – but Alicia Kopf makes it work, seamlessly building a hybrid of fiction, research notes, diary entries and illustration. The result is a lyrical, braided book, that would sit comfortably alongside the auto-fiction of Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti, or the non-fiction of Leslie Jamison, blending reportage with the personal.

A Catalan writer born in Girona and living in Barcelona, Kopf is not only an author but a visual artist, too, and says the two art forms feel almost identical. “To me, writing is closer to the idea of film editing,” she says. “I create material, and all the while I tidy and edit. I identify more with someone who films scenes and later puts them together, than with someone who walks on a previously created path.” In the case of Brother in Ice, she started investigating and creating images around ice, exhibited them in a gallery, and crafted the story simultaneously.

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