on 16 October 2012
By no means am I a good reviewer, but I feel this book deserves my amateur efforts. I'm a bit of a glutton for 'snow' novels and like many, was attracted to this book by the cover and theme, as well as contact with the author on dear old Twitter. It combines past and present in a natural way, unlike many books that jump in time. From the first chapter I found it engrossing, enjoying both the well researched Antarctic references, the drama of the Scott expedition and the story around the central relationship. OK, geeky computer nerds and young, manic, graffiti artists don't make for obvious bedfellows, but I was prepared to suspend disbelief this once.
For me it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, which I would recommend. I shall re-read it - no greater compliment can I pay.
Richard Pierce clearly knows a lot about the race to the Antarctic early in the twentieth century, not only the practicalities of it, but also how mythic it became in the collective imagination, particularly in the UK.
In this novel, (which is of course also largely a factual account, using information available at the time and later) he charts that fatal journey undertaken by Scott, Wilson, Oates ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Evans, not to mention what was a devastating discovery by the British team, when they reached the Pole, to discover the Norwegian, Amundsen, had got there first. Scott’s party all died on the journey back.
The explorers, over the century , have achieved iconic status; they failed (in being the first to reach the Pole) and the mystery of their deaths (understandable, given the harshness and danger of the venture) has come to stand for a certain kind of brave, against the odds, heroism in pursuit of an ideal not always understandable to others.
Pierce’s book worked well with these aspects
What did not work for me was the modern, fictional story. ‘Birdie’ Bowers is a young artist, quite tortured, quite flaky and terrifyingly vulnerable. She is obsessed by the original Birdie Bowers, whom she was named for, as her dead father was obsessed by him. By chance she meets an older man, Adam, someone with some demons of his own – a history of failed love affairs, some challenges with social communication, who works in some kind of rather nebulous freelance IT field. Adam falls immediately for the flaky Birdie and comes to share her interest and obsession (as part of that falling in love) He is cast, within the book as an impossibly high minded knight in shining armour. I did wonder, perhaps unkindly, whether Adam was a kind of wish-fulfillment projection for the author himself.
So what is also going on is a high, Romantic story which could have stepped straight out of Medieval Romance, where physical consummation is sublimated to pure and heroic deeds. I couldn’t believe in either character, frankly, and Birdie particularly felt far too obviously unstable to persuade authorities connected with the modern quest to unearth the ‘mystery’ , to let her within spitting distance of the project
Pierce also has a go at injecting ghostly, mysterious, high transcendental spiritual aspects into the story. I’m afraid these did not work for me either. I was neither spooked, moved, nor uplifted. The problem for me really was the fact I couldn’t believe in Birdie, in Adam, or in their relationship, which meant, really, that everything ‘in modern’ failed to engage me.
But, as one of those readers who has a curious fascination with the Poles, I did enjoy reading of that high Polar adventure which captured a nation’s imagination
on 29 August 2014
As a bit of a Scott nut, I’m always on the lookout for new literature about him and the now fatal Terra-nova exhibition.
After watching Mark Gattis’s portrayal of Apsley Cherry-Garrard in “The Worst Journey . . .” I stumbled upon an interview of Richard Pierce discussing Scott and Pierces new book “Dead Men”.
Each time I read a biography or historical account of the 1911/13 expedition, I always found myself pondering what actually did happen in the “missing” ten days that kept Scott, Bowers and Wilson confined to their tent and how great it would be if a fictional account was written. So it was inevitable that i was going to purchase and quickly read Dead Men.
I don't want to give too much away, but writing a book based on a factual event will always play out as it happened. I once read a book about a fictional sub story of the Titanic, so it was no surprise to me that in the end the liner sank!
The opening chapter, as expected, was very solemn and to a point upsetting. I’ve always had a morbid fascination as to how the men were found and the reaction of the men tasked with finding them. This chapter was superbly written and left me with a feeling of deepest sympathy for all concerned. The way the author described the inside of the tent almost took my breath away. For an instant i was one of the intrepid explorers saying goodbye to the man responsible for one of history s most enduring and tragic tales of exploration.
From the first chapter came the almost Hitchcock-esque second. A fantastic chance meeting between Birdie and Adam sets up an emotional roller coaster between them both which rides superbly in parallel with the main basis of the story.
I’ll be honest when i say i took an instant dislike to the character of Birdie and found her almost impossible to deal with. This could well of been the intention of the author, especially as my opinion changed as i moved further into the book. You begin to understand her, as Adam does also.
The strength of the author is evident throughout this book as the ability to craft really interesting characters. The main two aside, each character that's introduced as the story moves on has real likeability, especially the three chaps that they encounter when they travel to New Zealand.
You can certainly tell the author is well travelled, especially in and around New Zealand and the Antarctic area. The images he paints are certainly vivid and like the first chapter, i sometimes felt completely lost in the surroundings that the author was describing.
If i had any criticism at all, it would be that the book was a couple of hundred pages too short. I would of liked to of seen the relationship between Birdie and Adam explained and delved into a bit more thoroughly and even though I'm highly educated about Scott and the expedition in question, i would of liked a few more factual segments of the trip and what happened surrounding the deaths of Scott, Bowers, Wilson, Oates and Evans included within the story.
On the whole, i found this book both heart warming, emotional and informative. Its a tough task to mix fact and fiction but the author certainly has done this to great effect.
Not only has the author created a fantastic read, but at the same time has shown the up-most respect to the memory of Scott and his men.
on 25 April 2014
Dead Men by Richard Pierce lured me in rather like when I first saw photos of the great expanse of ice that is Antarctica. Why was it that Scott, Bowers and Wilson stayed in their tent for ten days despite being eleven miles from safety? Having read Scott’s diaries I wondered what Richard would offer and his offering is a plausible explanation, for Antarctica does call.
Throughout Dead Men Richard skilfully weaves the tale of Scott and his men and their expedition to the South Pole, with a story of love between Birdie and Adam. Birdie is fascinated by Bowers, whom her parents named her after. As such she plans to find Scott and his body. Adam is drawn into her life, like a moth to a flame. Together they journey to Antarctica.
Birdie is a complex and real character, she is harsh especially in the beginning, but within her is a kind heart. She is driven by her passion to find out what happened to Scott and his companions in those fateful final days. Birdie reminds me of winter landscapes, beautiful at first sight, yet unforgiving if not treated with respect. This is my sense of what she asks from Adam, don’t just love me, but be alive with me.
For me the ice is the main character, it is unrelenting, it is what Scott and his men were up against and where Birdie and Adam find themselves. The ice is not only a physical challenge, but a mental one too, such an expanse, to think, to accept, to let go. It is as if the ice holds what is important, as when Birdie and Adam attempt to uncover what happened to Scott and his companions. That when it is embraced its beauty shows and it gives back.
Dead Men is as alive as I imagine the ice of Antarctica to be. It lured me in with the mystery of Scott and his men and left me with a renewed sense of wonder for nature; the beauty that comes from embracing life and the natural world.
on 11 July 2013
I love it when worlds that are completely separate from each other collide. I had such an experience in reading `Dead Men' and finding in the pages of this book a number of ways in which worlds therein came together to become something new. That, in and of itself, would have brought me great enjoyment. But my reading of this book was even better. It nicely crashed into my real world.
I've never liked Scott. My children attend a school where the `houses' are named for the great Antarctica Explorers. Our family is Shackleton. Of course, that is no reason to dislike Scott, but all I've heard of him in history lessons furthered my dislike. But my reading of `Dead Men' coincided with a walk through the new Scott Exhibit at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand. Boom, those two experiences brought me into a new understanding of this great man and the excitement, pain, and disappointment of his life.
The story itself is about people and their experiences bringing them into a fresh understanding of life. A woman, named for a great explorer, meets a man so distant from her obsession, and yet together they set out on a great adventure of their own. There was no way these two characters will ever be the same again. I loved the way the author brought together the worlds of the great Explorers and these two main and rather unusual characters of the modern day. Their journeys, distanced by time, join together and we, the readers, find ourselves understand what drives people, past and present, from a fresh perspective.
This is a book for everyone. Adventure, romance, eccentric characters, history, and art, you can find it here.
on 12 April 2012
This intriguing novel uses as its starting point Captain Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1910-13. Scott led a team of British explorers to the South Pole which, after a great deal of planning, expense and suffering, he reached on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen's Norwegian expedition had been there five weeks earlier. Their achievements and tragedies are recorded in a swath of letters, journals and photographs, not to mention in the very clothes, artefacts, preserved foodstuffs and tools they used, now on display at museums like the Scott Polar Research Institute. Scott himself didn't make it back, neither did several of his most trusted colleagues, including Captain Oates ("I am just going outside and I may be some time") and Henry `Birdie' Bowers, which brings me to Richard Pierce's novel and his main character.
Birdie Bowers is a woman in the present day obsessed with her historic namesake. She's an interesting choice of leading lady; erratic, irrational, prone to risky behaviours and a bit of a flake. Though written from the point of view of Adam, Birdie is the character who really drives this story. Adam, by comparison, smokes too much, drinks too much, and his interest is initially in her rather than her elaborate plans to walk in the footsteps of Terra Nova. At first their relationship is painfully unequal; Adam pines for her from a distance and (here comes that word again) obsesses over her as unattainable, while fantasising about having a home and family with her.
And here I had a little realisation. Dead Men isn't really about Scott's mission, it's about obsession in its various forms: Scott's obsession with the pole; Birdie's obsession with history; Adam's obsession with Birdie. It's about the insane lengths we're willing to go to satisfy our pride, curiosity and lust.
Antarctic aficionados may find Dead Men a little thin. This novel is not a retelling of events already captured in true accounts, such as Captain Scott's Journals, and Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World. Rather, Dead Men riffs off these so that Pierce's novel is something entirely new. Historians, biographers and researchers who read this book will relate to Birdie and Adam's fixation: the hours spent in libraries and institutions; the meticulous planning to go on a fieldtrip; the bureaucratic brick walls and, most rare of all, the magical discovery - the euphoria of intuition and effort rewarded.
Throughout the novel are little vignettes from the past dealing with the emotional fallout of Scott's thwarted ambition. Atkinson, Cherry-Garrard, Amundsen, Kathleen Scott and others are briefly brought to life, then fade away again. And yet they're never really absent from the page. The voices of the dead men calling across the Ice, like sirens on the rocks, are incredibly eerie and very satisfying.
Dead Men is an emotional adventure and an unsettling ghost story. It's an exploration of those two opposing magnetic forces - the one pulling us onward, and the one pulling us home - and a sympathetic salute to the flawed and foolhardy human spirit.
on 4 April 2012
It is too rare that fiction is so enticing, so enthralling and so purely inspiring that the reader will continue the story following its conclusion. But `Dead Men' is not simply a story, but a message, providing us with a spark that will undoubtedly blossom into a burning passion for the history, the characters and the Antarctic.
Adam Caird, a bachelor who struggles to free himself from the monotony of middle aged life, and Birdie Bowers, a temperamental, free spirited and obsessed young woman, find themselves entwined in a relationship that peaks and troughs between contradiction, hostility and love. This relationship provides the reader with a vessel in which they explore the history of the race to the South Pole and specifically the mystery surrounding Capt. Scott's death.
Zigzagging between the present day and 1912, the story provides an exciting and knowledgeable insight into key events in the timeline of the South Pole and those who explored it, encouraging us to see through the eyes of the men who were actually there. This mammoth task is undertaken with great responsibility and insight by Richard Pierce and is a testament to his writing prowess.
Much like the mystery and intrigue of the Antarctic `Dead Men' will not let you go and will get you picking up the history books in an effort to learn more about some of the bravest men that ever lived and died.
on 9 April 2012
I really enjoyed this book, and read it in three days during a short break, and as well as all the wonderful things I saw on the trip, one of the highlights was curling up with this at the end of the day. It was absorbing and compelling. I particularly liked both the main characters in the contemporary love story. This rang with authenticity for me. Birdie was quirky and vulnerable and altered internally through the book, finally settling and finding her centre, while Adam was so sure of his love for her right from the start and yet changed in his outward demeanour, throwing off the shackles of his former life. I liked the warmth of their shared passion for Antarctica, and the author obviously shares that as this strand of the book shines out. It is about living, breathing human beings who made mistakes but who had a dream, a desire to do something out of the ordinary and to conquer the unconquerable, ineffable world of Antarctica along with themselves, and perhaps a passion like this can even overcome death. Read this book if you like books which flow and are easy to read, while having an undercurrent of deep thought that pulls you right in.
on 27 November 2013
This was a Book Group recommendation and unfortunately I couldn't attend on the night so have no idea how others felt. I always enjoy reading about Explorers so was excited to be given this to read. For me, I was slightly disappointed at first that there was a love story woven into the facts but as I read on, Richard Pierce had included them all and my historical appetite was satisfied. I felt that he skilfully switched from the past to present seamlessly. I couldn't put the book down which is always a good sign of a book that I enjoy! I thought that the book was well written and would recommend it to those who think that Polar expeditions are a bit tedious to read and also to those who just like a 'good story'. I have already recommended it to others. I will look out for more books from this author.
on 4 April 2012
This book was a gift from my daughter, who knew I had a lifelong fascination with Antarctica and Scott's expeditions. I romped through it, couldn't wait to make time to read the next bit, and found the characters and dialogue first rate; I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Antarctica and some spooky stuff which took place at what remains of Scott's base. I think the theory about what happened during the mysterious last ten days is really plausible. ANYONE who is interested in polar exploration should read this !