My third book for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge took me to cold and lonely Antarctica
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.
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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher: Hutchinson ; ISBN: 978-0-312-98932-3 Length: 392 pages Setting Antarctica present-day
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Do check out the Global Reading Challenge blog to see what exotic locations the 69 (so far) challenge participants have been visiting