I have officially completed the extreme level of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.
This required me to read 3 books set in different countries of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America, South America plus two books set in Antarctica and a wildcard book set in any time or place new to me. Because that wasn’t quite complicated enough I added my own slant that all the books had to be by new-to-me authors.
Participating in this challenge opened my reading up to 21 new authors, many of whom I wouldn’t otherwise have read. For some of them a single exposure will be enough but many will be reappearing on my reading list in the not too distant future. In fact I’ve already read and/or ordered additional titles from several of the terrific authors discovered on my virtual tour around the globe where I met an array of fascinating people and learned a thing or three I didn’t know.
Thanks to Dorte of DJs Krimiblog for conceiving of and hosting the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. It was a hoot and lived up to all aspects of its name and I would encourage you to sign up for the 2011 version of the challenge (in which I am reliably informed you won’t have to read books set in Antarctica to be considered an extremist).
World-famous English explorer Julian Fitzgerald and a Norwegian colleague Carl Norland aim to be the first men to cross Antarctica at its widest point on foot. When things go wrong and they are forced to call for help the only chance of rescue is by land from a private scientific research base nearly 500 kilometres (300 miles) away. The base leader Lauren Burgess and her small team put their work on hold and race the clock to see if they can save the explorers before the long winter sets in and any form of rescue will be impossible.
This book had a strong sense of its setting. The isolation, vast distances, extreme weather and the razor-thin line between humans taming nature and becoming its victims are all extremely well depicted. I would like to have seen some exploration of the idea that perhaps it’s an inhospitable place for a reason and we should leave it alone but I admit that’s a personal bias. I did get a bit sick of everyone being talked about in heroic terms though, especially the two explorers. My take on people who do extreme things just because they can is more ‘arrogant fool’ than hero, especially when they expect other people to risk their own lives to save their sorry arses.
The story is quite compelling although it would have been more so with a bit tighter editing. However there are several suspenseful story arcs and some genuine surprises. Although marketed as a thriller it was far more subtle and introspective than the all-guns blazing kind of book that the ‘thriller’ term would suggest but I was nevertheless very keen to find out what happened in the end.
Where the book fell down for me was in the character development. I can’t really go into much detail without giving away huge spoilers but I think the characters lacked any real depth. The impact of this on the book was to have people at several key points engage in behaviour that I don’t think was at all realistic in the circumstances. Probably the best character was the narcissistic Julian Fitzgerald whose degeneration into paranoia did seem fairly credible given the things he was experiencing and doing but the rest were all a bit too unselfish for me to really believe in.
Overall though I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would at the outset (the first 30-40 pages are a bit slow) and as it’s the first book I’ve read specifically for a reading challenge (i.e. I would never have read it but for the need to read something set in Antarctica) I’m quite chuffed with this outcome.