Thomas Wharton

Thomas Wharton, writer (born 25 February 1963 in Grande Prairie, AB).
Thomas Wharton, writer (born 25 February 1963 in Grande Prairie, AB).

Thomas Wharton, writer (born 25 February 1963 in Grande Prairie, AB). Thomas Wharton moved with his family to Jasper, Alberta, when he was a teenager, and the landscape and geography of the Canadian Rockies have deeply influenced his work. At the University of Alberta he initially studied art and design, later switching to biological sciences. While working as a lab technician he read (and reread) James Joyce's Ulysses. It proved inspirational - he enrolled in a creative writing course at the University of Alberta under the tutelage of the Canadian novelist Rudy Wiebe. The master's degree he subsequently obtained provided the starting point for his first novel, Icefields (1995).

Icefields opens at the end of the nineteenth century, when an English scientist working in the Rockies, Dr Edward Byrne, slips on the Arcturus glacier, near Jasper, and falls into a crevasse. There he believes he sees an angel encapsulated in the sunlit ice, and develops an obsession with the nature of ice and the study of glacial flow. The novel tracks the interlocking stories of a variety of characters, all of whose destinies are in some sense tied to the glacier. We witness the transformation of the landscape by the development of road, rail, and holiday resort. Icefields was extremely well received both in Canada and abroad, winning the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Canada and Caribbean division) and the Henry Kreisel Award (Best First Book) at the 1996 Alberta Book Awards, among other honours. It was also a finalist in the 2008 CBC Canada Reads competition.

Thomas Wharton's second novel, Salamander (2001), also demonstrates his interest in fragmentary and diverse viewpoints, histories, and anecdotes. This work is a departure in style for Wharton, being expansive rather than sparse and elliptical. An eighteenth century printer, Nicholas Flood, is challenged by an eccentric nobleman to create "a book without end. Or beginning, for that matter." As a result Flood embarks upon a quest that spans the world. The nature of reading, narrative, and the book as a physical object provides the central motif. The story is related to a Québécois colonel by Flood's daughter on the eve of General Wolfe's capture of Quebec City in 1759. It was short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award.

In 2004 Thomas Wharton published a volume of interrelated short stories entitled Logogryph. As with Salamander, the nature of books as narratives and artifacts is the main theme. Wharton reintroduces Jasper as a setting, this time as the home of the Weaver family with whose members an anonymous protagonist becomes deeply involved in both a literary and emotional sense. Wharton's attraction to eclecticism in form and content is again strongly in evidence. The collection was short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2006. The Shadow of Malabron, the first volume of Thomas Wharton's fantasy trilogy for young readers, entitled The Perilous Realm appeared in 2008.