Monday, 29 September 2008

TITLE: THE BIRTHDAY BOYS AUTHOR: Beryl Bainbridge DATE PUBLISHED: 1991 DATE READ: September 2008 NOTES: This is a fictionalised version of the ill-fated Polar expedition led by Scott. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the team. Knowing from the outset that these were the ones who died making the final journey to the South Pole made it all the more poignant. It is a beautifully written book which makes all the characters come alive. Some of the errors made by the expedition are (seen in hindsight) unbelievable. Few of the team had any serious experience in either skiing or moving sledges with dog teams. The ponies were unsuitable for the terrain, as were the motor vehicles. Scott eventually chose (against all previous plans) to take five rather than four on the final push to the Pole – this had a damaging effect on their supplies which he failed to take into account. Bainbridge treats all the men with honesty and sensitivity. She exhibits a real understanding of the mindset of the officer class of the Edwardian era – the divisions between officers and men, the feeling that using huge dog teams was “unsporting” and the virtue of stoicism. A lovely book that led me to a greater understanding of a group of men who were heroic while at the same time slightly insane!

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