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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning.
This is very possibly the best book I have read. I greatly admire Bainbridge's writing, but even she has here surpassed herself. Her prose is spare yet precise and her writing is so skilful that she tells you everything in an astonishingly few words. She blends fact and fiction so convincingly that the reader is there with these poor men. Brave yet foolhardy, loyal...
Published on 8 April 2002

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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I missing something?
Half-way through this novel, I was so disappointed that I looked up its Amamzon reviews, found that they were all positive, and decided to carry on with it. Sadly, I haven't changed my views. This slim novel, based on the famous and tragic expedition to the South Pole, springs no surprises, nor did I expect any. But for me (and it seems I'm alone here) the characters...
Published on 30 May 2010 by Frances Stott


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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning., 8 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
This is very possibly the best book I have read. I greatly admire Bainbridge's writing, but even she has here surpassed herself. Her prose is spare yet precise and her writing is so skilful that she tells you everything in an astonishingly few words. She blends fact and fiction so convincingly that the reader is there with these poor men. Brave yet foolhardy, loyal yet desperate, she brings their famous and tragic story to life in a way I have never before encountered. A short book and one which you savour, trying to make it last, yet knowing that you will soon have finished it and go right back to the beginning to read it again. READ IT!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly fascinating and compelling, 12 May 2002
By A Customer
When Captain Scott reached the south pole in 1912, he did so with a party of 4 other men. All very different characters, all with seperate motivations, backgrounds and outlooks. That's part of why the story of their expedition is still so fascinating. Beryl Bainbridge takes each important stage of the expedition, starting with the endless fundraising in England and the first meetings of the crew and finishing with Captain Oates' long walk into the blizzard and has a different explorer narrate it. She gets under the skin of each man so very perfectly and convincingly that it's sometimes difficult to remember that these are their fictionalised thoughts, not their journals and letters.
As someone who's read many of those journals and letters, I found each voice and attitude wonderfully realised. We all know how it's going to end, but the journey is a compelling one. Each man's frailties and strengths are touched on lightly but with conviction, in a way that seems utterly credible. Not just a book for armchair explorers but for anyone interested in how men's minds work.
And, however your mind works, at least one of these men will capture your imagination. Oates is the popular choice but I've always preferred Bowers. Witty cynicism is all very well, but in a tough spot, you can't beat hard-graft and demented optimism.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heroic - but slightly insane!, 20 Oct 2008
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, 16 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
"Living ashore hits men differently. Some shuffle back into it like they've found an old pair of slippers and others can't walk easy, no matter how they're shod."

The Birthday Boys is a fictionalised account of Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, delivering at once a refresher course in historical events as well as a gifted writer's interpretation of those men's character and the dialogue that may have taken place.

In the opening chapters the story richly recreates the attitudes of early 1900's society, a society that celebrated, supported, sponsored and revered exploration, adventure and discovery. As the story develops, it is the harsh conditions and the challenges facing the expedition that are just as richly recreated, but in Bainbridge's typical style of word economy.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character on the expedition, painting a vivid picture of their own disposition and motivations for setting off on the trip as well as the harsh reality they faced as they struggled to be the first to reach the South Pole and then return alive. The book is a wonderful exploration of old fashioned virtues and manners, of courage and character under fire, a bold and startling picture of the challenges faced by those intrepid men. It's also a rich insight into Robert Falcon Scott, the leader of the expedition. Described in the book thus:

"He's absolutely sound as regards what's right, but he lacks conviction. He simply isn't stupid enough to be convinced his is the only way. In these circumstances, it's a dangerous trait."

we are exposed to his strengths, weaknesses and the tragic choices he made that lead to the expedition's success but also failure and ultimate tragedy.

This would make a good read for men who love adventure, even of the vicarious and arm chair sort, for people who love history and books that revisit historical events, and also for readers who enjoy a good character examination. It's only 181 pages long - typical Bainbridge - which makes it concise enough to keep most people engaged. But it's not a light read and it's not laugh-a-minute so it's not for everyone.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book, 12 Oct 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
As good a read as anyone could want. Beryl Bainbridge captures the essence of Scott and his colleagues, their preparations for the trip and the enormous (& fatal) challenge they took on. For me the book brought the people on the expedition to life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and gripping account of Scott's last journey, 21 Jun 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It is a multi-viewpoint memoir of Scott's last journey into Antarctica. It captures the horror, the Britishness of the enterprise, the attitude of the people, the scenery ... wonderful.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I missing something?, 30 May 2010
By 
Frances Stott (Devizes, Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
Half-way through this novel, I was so disappointed that I looked up its Amamzon reviews, found that they were all positive, and decided to carry on with it. Sadly, I haven't changed my views. This slim novel, based on the famous and tragic expedition to the South Pole, springs no surprises, nor did I expect any. But for me (and it seems I'm alone here) the characters never really came to life, the story skipped around too much - flashbacks, different viewpoints - and all in all I found it a very unsatisfactory read. The abrupt ending didn't help; I felt that so much more could have been made of the deterioration of the health and the conditions of the explorers during their heroic stuggle towards the end of their doomed expedition. When I reached the last page, I turned it over, expecting at least a little more, but that was it. I would love to know whether I'm alone in my opinion of this novel; is there anyone else out there who agrees with me?
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling Masterpiece, 26 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
All my life I've been fascinated by polar expeditions. I read this novel several years ago, and still get goosebumps thinking about the point-blank loneliness and utter misery of these men...and about the sad conceit of the whole expedition. But the novel is more than just a chilling travel story - it explores the extremes of lost-ness.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the minds of Scott's team, 8 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Kindle Edition)
An enjoyable novel, looking at the Scott expedition from a different angle. It focussed on the five who went to the Pole, writing part of the story from the point of view of each member of the team. It explored their personal feelings about each other, and their lives leading up to the expedition, their triumphs, regrets and weaknesses (more the last two than the first).
The book was very readable, but a little one-paced, and I didn't feel that the five had sufficiently different voices to reflect their very contrasting characters. The technical issues, especially at sea, were not well understood by Bainbridge, but that wasn't what it was about so of no great consequence.
Worth reading, especially if you are interested in the Polar exploration and the Scott expedition in particular.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SCOTT'S ILL-FATED JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH POLE, 4 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
THIS BOOK MIXES FACT AND FICTION BEAUTIFULLY. IT TAKES THE READER WITH SCOTT, INTO HIS BOOTS AND TAKES YOU RIGHT UP TO THE VERY LAST MOMENT IN HIS AND HIS MENS'S LIVES. THE BOOK, SO-CALLED BECAUSE EACH MEMBER OF THE EXPEDITION CELEBRATES THEIR BIRTHDAYS IS TOLD FROM EACH OF THEIR POINT OF VIEWS. VIVIDLY BRINGING TO LIFE THE HARSH COLD AND SCOTT'S REALISATION THAT THEY HAVE BEEN BEATEN BY AMUNDSEN, MAKES YOU WANT TO DROP TO YOUR KNEES AND WEEP. A TRIUMPHANT NOVEL THAT MUST RANK IN THE ALL TIME BEST BOOKS LIST EVER.....
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