Hell is other people in a very very cold place indeed
I don’t know why a person who feels the cold and loves the heat is so drawn to literature set in the frozen wastes, nor why I should spend so much time terrifying myself with fantasies of being abandoned and isolated in a polar landscape, but I do, and I am a reader driven to read fact and fiction about isolation and chill
So, Rebecca Hunt’s Everland, and its subject matter, two separate, 3 person scientific explorations of a penguin and seal colony in Antarctica, one in 1913 and one in 2012 was an obvious read for me.
And very absorbing and satisfying it proved too, even if it didn’t completely satisfy, as some of the obvious parallels and obvious differences between the two expeditions felt a little like an excellent idea which was getting overworked.
In both centuries (the two time-frames are interwoven with each other) there is a mother ship, from which 3 individuals are chosen to be the expedition which goes to `Everland’, an island in Antarctica (invented) . In each case, there are `political’ dynamics over the choice of one of the team. And in each case, the leader of the team is highly experienced, their second in command is hard working and practical and the third, the scientist, has rather been foisted on the other two against their wishes, in order to satisfy and secure funding, because of their connection to powerful people. In both cases, there is one team member who is implacably opposed to the `freeloader’ scientist who is a liability, though they are well-meaning, in such a harsh environment, and the other team-member who is more kindly. In each case, as everything unravels it is the one who is most implacably opposed who shows a transcending nobility.
The make-up of both teams show the changing times. 1913, Napps, Millet-Bass and Dinners are all men, by 2012 the make-up of the team is 1 male, Decker, and 2 females, Jess and Brix
Hunt is brilliant at bringing home the chilly, hostile, savage and beautiful environment. The book is full of moral ambiguities, and, particularly in the 1913 section, the complexities of relationship and status, and the conflicts between public and private faces are excellently done.
In the end, the later exploration, one undertaken as a kind of `anniversary’ of the earlier one, was rather less satisfying. Once Hunt had set up the conceit, making a kind of mirror reflection with a twist, as the plot developed, the reader knew roughly how things were going to play out, and the reading experience of the 2012 became a little like a compare and contrast jigsaw. I did not experience involvement with the modern section. It seemed a little forced into a shape.
Recommended, with some reservations
I received the book as a review copy from the publishers via NetGalley