Good Reading : August 2008
AUGUST 2008 ı goodreading 23 categorical David Burke’s Monday at McMurdo is said to be the first murder mystery set in Antarctica. Published in 1967, the story discusses environmental themes, then just being raised in Antarctica. In it a plane carrying a US Congressman crashes on a glacier. Burke himself survived a plane crash in Antarctica a few years earlier and the experience obviously provided meat for his book. In the novel Burke foreshadows increased tourism and mineral exploitation in the south as motives for human occupation of the continent. New Zealand journalist Graham Billing visited Antarctica for 18 months, and later wrote his first novel, Forbush and the Penguins (1965).This novel explores the physical and emotional world of a biologist working in solitude on a study of penguins in Antarctica. By the end of Forbush’s period with the penguins, he identifies more closely with them than with his human companions.The New Yorker was complimentary: ‘Mr Billing has a large and observant heart, and the natural tension in his writing is the mark of a talent that can only deepen and grow more important as the years go by.’ A Victim of the Aurora by Thomas Keneally (1977) is an engrossing novel about a turn of the century Antarctic expedition which turns into a murder investigation when one of its members is found dead on the ice.The bulk of the novel involves discovering the victim’s past and how it interconnects with the lives of the other team members. An interesting thriller with a twist the end. Angela arter described it ‘a rattling yarn’ nd as having a ‘delicious adability’; Peter ckroyd saw the meaning nderneath, describing Keneally as a ‘powerful nd subtle writer, whose implicity of style must never be confused with simplicity of meaning’. Read it on a cold weekend. A couple of recent novels examine the relationships that grow in the south revealing the ease with which people can get together and paradoxically, the complexities and implications of such warmth n Antarctica. In 1997 Australian writer Nikki Gemmell published Shiver, a novel of human relationships on a modern voyage south with the Australian Antarctic Division. It’s a novel based on her own experiences as a guest writer and it has touched a nerve with many Australians. According to a New Zealand Antarctic old hand, it’s an accurate reflection of the life of the modern ship- based Antarctican. And in 2003, French writer Marie Darrieussecq wrote White a tale of ‘tentative romance’ set in an Antarctic base of the near future. Pete Tomson and Eamée Polanco are running from issues at home (not uncommon in Antarctic affairs) and they come together at the end of the world.There’s a chorus of ghosts (again not uncommon in Antarctic affairs) who observe and comment. It’s written in an intriguing style that benefits from careful reading and thought. Darrieussecq is being touted as one of France’s hot new talents and this is a wise and subtle story. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica was published in 1997.The novel deals with a variety of haracters living or visiting an Antarctic esearch station.With strong environmental heme and some really vocative landscape escriptions, it’s clear hat Robinson looked arefully when he was Antarctica. Most of the story is centred around McMurdo station, the United States settlement at the far southern edge of the Ross Sea. Much emphasis is placed on the issues of living in a hostile environment without damaging that environment. Robinson’s novel is a good read and is highly infor mative – to the point of labouring the narrative.The blurb compares the book to Michener’s Hawaii, a stretch of advertorial licence perhaps, but those who have read Michener can see the logic. Adventure writer Matthew Reilly also went to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division. Can action- adventure novels deliver too much action, too much shooting and too many plot twists? With Ice Station’s (1998) hailstor ms of bullets, it’s amazing that anyone remains standing by the end. Non-stop violence, danger and intrigue may numb some readers, particularly those needing to pause and catch their breath. I’m not a big fan of this sort of book, but I took my first breath at page 71. I know the rules say that this is a oklist, but I’m going to include a ory by Ursula Le Guin, published the New Yorker of 1 February 982. ‘Sur – a Summary Report f the Yelcho Expedition to the ntarctic, 1909-1910’ is the tale of group of women explorers who, n their efficient and courageous way, became the first to reach the South Pole. No bearded heroics, no starving for glory, just a successful expedition to the South Pole and back again. Although heroism is real Le Guin writes, ‘Achievement is smaller than men think.What is large is the sky, the earth, the sea, the soul.’ When you tire of the grand themes, majestic landscapes and thrilling escapades, have a look at American chick lit title Adventures of an Ice Princess (2004). Ice Princess is a quick, light read, written competently by Liz Maverick and concerns the ‘coming of age’ of Clarissa Schneckberg a young woman who had been disappointed in love and who, with her two best friends Delila and Kate, goes to McMurdo Base for a change. Maverick’s books are described as having ‘kick-butt heroines, sexy heroes and sticky situations’, and the trio fit the bill. A mixed list? Yes.There’s a lot out there, and even more coming. As more and more people visit the south expect many more fiction books to match the seemingly endless flow of pretty picture books about the ‘last continent’ now gracing our bookshops. Amen to that.