The fictional Antarctic island of Everland is the chilling setting for Rebecca Hunt's second novel, a location we visit first in 1913 and then again almost one hundred years later in 2012. In 1913, three men - Napps, a naval officer with a reputation for getting things done regardless of whose toes he steps on; Millet-Bass, a strong, capable sailor; and Dinners, a brilliant scientist, but an inexperienced and physically weak man - all volunteer to explore an uncharted island. Napps, heavily critical of Dinners and his lack of experience of polar expeditions, makes no secret of his opinion of the scientist, which causes bad feeling all round. In fact the expedition seems doomed from the outset when, after leaving the parent ship, the dinghy carrying the three men to the island is caught up in a ferocious storm resulting in damage to the boat and some of the men's supplies being washed away. When they finally get to the island, half-frozen and exhausted, and with Dinners suffering from frostbite, the men are left waiting to be rescued whilst their scanty supplies dwindle and their strength rapidly fades. But does the rescue ship arrive in time?
In 2012, the upcoming centenary of the original mission is marked by a return visit to the island. This time, the team consists of one man: Decker, who is regarded as something of a hero at the Antarctic base camp and as being: 'a kind of polar Socrates who could be relied upon to have the answer for everything', and Decker is joined by two women: Jess, a very competent and experienced field assistant, and Brix who, like Dinners one hundred years before her, is an excellent scientist, but is inexperienced and lacking the necessary survival skills for a polar mission. Jess, feeling resentful that Brix was chosen over a colleague who she feels was better qualified, is unpleasant and critical towards the scientist, and as the three of them are thrown together in close proximity in a landscape that starts to feel increasingly hostile, their situation begins, in some ways, to echo the expedition which took place a hundred years before. As Rebecca Hunt's story moves smoothly between 1913 and 2012, we gradually see the dynamics change and the characters start to behave in different ways to how we might have expected them to, with some surprising results.
Rebecca Hunt, helped and inspired by a research visit to the Arctic and by Captain Scott's diaries, writes very convincingly of the Antarctic landscape and it is almost possible to feel the intense, biting cold, the quiet eerieness of the setting and the strangely disorientating effect of the long hours of daylight. Whilst the scene is set and the players are introduced, the pace of the narrative is initially a little measured, but I soon became drawn right into this tale, becoming involved in the characters and their predicaments and, as the story progressed, I began to find this unusual novel a gripping and entertaining read.
In 2011, author Rebecca Hunt was chosen as one of eighteen artists and writers to join the Artic Circle residency aboard a traditional ice-class sailing vessel which voyages to the High Artic. Following on from her hugely successful debut novel, Mr Chartwell, the author has used those experiences to create her second book and it is sure to be as successful as the first.
In 2013, three researchers (Brix, Jess and Decker) are selected for a field trip to the island of Everland – first named by those picked for a similar expedition in 1913 (Dinners, Millet-Bass and Napps). That first trip has since been immortalised by a film, which those on the Antartic base Aegeus know word by word – along with booing the ‘baddie’ (Napps). However, as we know, things are never as clear cut as Hollywood makes them and the 1960’s film is based upon a book, written by Captain Lawrence, who picked the group volunteering to scout out the uncharted and unknown island.
This excellent novel switches effortlessly between telling the story of that heroic and, ultimately, tragic 1913 expedition and also shows how the behaviour and events of the 2013 expedition begin to mirror them. Decker has twenty years in the field and is seen as something of a hero by those on the base. Jess, an exceptional field assistant, relies on her job for self esteem. Brix, like Dinners so long ago, is a competent scientist but lacks experience in the field. In the harsh environment of the Artic, mistakes can be costly and every team member has to pull their weight. Of course, the major difference from the 1913 expedition is that two members of the modern trip are female (Brix and Jess) and I am delighted that the author does not make the gender of her characters an issue. We have strong, competent characters and weaker ones, in both eras, but that is not relevant to their gender.
As Decker, Jess and Brix begin the first comprehensive study of the island on the centenary of that first Everland voyage, there is much competition to be selected. Jess had hoped that her friend, Andre, a Dutch biologist would be selected instead of Brix and is resentful in much the same way that Napps thought that including Dinners in the team was a stupid decision. Brix finds Jess intimidating and, when three people are living in isolation in a difficult environment, personal relationships can be difficult at the best of times. This interesting novel looks at how those living in such close proximity look for approval, can become ruthless, have survival instincts that override their better feelings or become humiliated by their lack of contribution to the team. As both teams attempt to carry out the work of three with one member seen as weak, with illness or injury likely to incapacitate members of the team in the harsh environment, there are shifting allegiances and mounting tension. It also shows how history is, essentially, told by the survivors and explains how the Hollywood film made about the first expedition was not totally truthful in the retelling...
Both the different time lines are realistically portrayed. The 1913 expedition took place in the Heroic Age of Antartic exploration – when goals were more abstract ones of exploration and the explorers themselves seen as manly and romantic. Now, in 2012, the Antartic base of Aegeus is home to an international community of 150 and the goals are more scientific. However, once off the base, the environment is just as difficult – even if there are gadgets to help the modern group survive, the tensions are the same. Ambition, outside influences and members of the groups being chosen for reasons other than being the best, create unbearable tensions; with only three members there to do the work in the harsh climate, where mistakes can be fatal. This is a fantastic read – enjoyable, well written, with fascinating characters and a really atmospheric setting.
I received a copy of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley, for review.
Rebecca Hunt's first novel, Mr Chartwell used an audacious, almost fantasy, conceit to capture the reader and examine a difficult subject - depression.
Her follow-up to that reads as more naturalistic, but still chases big themes - truth, lies, courage and consequences.
One hundred years ago, three men set out from the Antarctic survey ship Kismet in a dinghy to land on a small island, which they name Everland after the sponsor of their expedition. Right from the start, thing go wrong, and they are soon stranded. Dinners, Napps and Millet-Bass are explorers in the classic Edwardian mould, all pipes, woollens and tinned food, defying the Southern winter with plenty of Imperial pluck but with pitiful equipment. And it is getting darker.
One hundred years later, but in summer, a modern survey team, Jess, Brix and Decker, visit the same island. They land by plane, are in radio contact with a nearby base, and use the latest kit, including quad bikes. But life in the Antarctic is still brutal - the cold means that wounds won't heal, and the work they have lined up, observing and tagging seals and penguins, is arduous. As with the 1913 party, there is a suspicion that one of the team isn't up to the job: this is only one of many echoes linking the two narratives - others include patterns of language, coincidences, shifts in the relationships within each group (three is unstable: alliances form, jealousies and fears surface... secrets are kept) and even the background of some of the explorers (Decker is tired, and wants to be home after years of exploration: so is Napps).
Also linking the two stories is a classic 60s film, Everland, portraying the earlier events - notably the cowardly action of one of the party, who is portrayed almost as a reverse Captain Oates. When the film is shown in Aegeus base before the 2012 mission, everyone hisses. The story can't, and sensibly doesn't try to, escape the shadow of Scott of the Antarctic - instead Hunt cleverly traps, kills, and flenses the hoary Antarctic tale, turning it inside out and producing a very clever alternate view which is as much about truth and lies as about survival, pitiless nature or Victorian nobility. So in a third strand of narrative, following the return of the 1913 expedition to New Zealand, the battered survey ship limps back, and the battered, shattered men in it (captain, doctor) negotiate what happened, fix blame, and make up the future - eventually to be reflected in that film.
Which has its own consequences, because the myth they create sets the pattern for the later expedition - undertaken largely for symbolism, intended to celebrate the centenary of the first but ending up closer than anyone would have thought. And again, in 2012, there are those small choices, lies told to oneself or to others, evasions, some undertaken with the best of intentions but leading to disaster. And again, the disaster is spun, blame is fixed, and the future begins to emerge, like the treacherous ice around Everland.
This is an enthralling book. It draws the reader in, makes its characters so real and - without ever falling into hyperbole - contains some beautiful prose. Hunt has a wonderful knack of just nailing a description, an attitude, a character. Freshly laid ice at the top of glacier is "plutonium blue". After one of the crises (Hunt is good at making the small things add up, disaster building as one thing follows another) she says of Millet-Bass that "there was also another problem of gigantic scale which demanded his full attention to avoid". Later, "a huge bruise was developing in various shades of ugly".
A powerful, thought-provoking read, easily as good as and probably better than Mr Chartwell. If this doesn't win prizes there is no justice in the world.
on 18 March 2015
The first chapter of Overland , April 1913 ends with the rescue of Dinners who "cried for not being driven out of his collapsing body and made to die alone in the cold. And he cried for Napps and Millet Bass; for the heartbreak of what had come before'. A taster of the language in this story of two trios, a hundred years apart, stranded on the same Antarctic island.
The November/December 2012 story echoes the earlier one. It is written in a different voice which did not work for me nearly as well as the 1913 expedition. Here it is the heartache, the discord, the guilt and human interaction that grips. Mistakes linger, forgiveness is hard. They endure. We get right inside Dinners nightmare. He is beautifully portrayed.
I would have liked more of the wonder of the antarctic - a character in its own right.
I normally enjoy books set in the Arctic or Antarctic, whether historical or contemporary. And as this latest novel from Rebecca Hunt combines the two, I was looking forward to it. Admittedly the story itself is potentially engaging, following as it does two expeditions, the first in 1913 and the second 100 years later. But unfortunately the author just isn’t up to the job. Characterisation is poor with little character development and too much reliance on lazy stereotyping. Dialogue is clunky, especially in the historical sections where no attempt seems to have been made towards authenticity. Descriptions are reasonable but the continually changing timelines make for disjointed reading. And the names are most odd. Dinners? Millet-Bass? All in all I found the book most unsatisfying and quickly lost interest.
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 and 2 females
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
on 24 June 2015
I doubt I would have picked this book for myself to read but having had the opportunity to read it courtesy of Penguin and Genes Reunited I'm glad I have read it.
It's very well written and researched. I am wondering whether the writer spent much time in the Antarctic as the atmosphere created was palpable.
I enjoyed the dual timescales and the similarities and differences between them. I enjoyed the fact that Everland remained immutable throughout the passing of the decades.
The parallels between the two groups of explorers was fascinating and in a weirdly Lord of the Flies manner we see how disparate groups of people react and interact making life changing and affirming decisions. I often asked myself what I would have done in some of those situations.
And in a sense the Antarctic scene was a backdrop for the drama of human personalities and frailties to be played out. Given any extreme set of circumstances in a hostile environment would the decisions made be any different, relative to the situations the characters find themselves in. The concept of responsibility is an interesting one here too; it can be bestowed according to rank or position or it can be assumed according to personality and disposition. And there are some contemporary issues, even if they are dealt with in the 1913 time frame, euthanasia and the manipulation and corruption of facts to achieve a desired end.
So all in all a very substantial read on several levels. Whether I enjoyed or endured is debatable. I felt very cold and exhausted by the time I reached the end!!!
on 28 March 2015
This is a wonderful novel. It delivers richly on the promise of 'Mr Chartwell' (her previous book), and kept me enthralled throughout. I enjoy accounts of polar exploration ('The Birthday Boys' is one of my favourite books), but I don't think that's necessary to appreciate 'Everland'; all you need is an interest in humanity and a pulse. Hunt weaves two narratives - one from 1913, one from 2013 - which begin to echo each other eerily. Both Antarctic expeditions are comprised of three people, both groups consist of two no-nonsense practical types and one dreamer, who the others fear is unfit for polar exploration. The way that the groups interact, and the choices that the polar wilderness forces upon the characters, is fascinating. The Antarctic is superbly portrayed, almost a character in it's own right, by turns stunning and hostile, mesmerising and haunting.
The book asks the reader to examine their own moral integrity. How far would you go to save the life of someone that is slowing you down? Would you risk certain death to show loyalty to someone you don't respect? The extremity of the circumstances, in combination with the characters desperately human flaws, cause the complacent morality of the old world to crack like ice sheets. The construction of myth and history through narrative, and the possibility that, whatever your actions, they may be interpreted and distorted in the telling haunts 'Everland'.
It is a bold, brilliant book, portraying an almost unimaginably strange place, populated with six flawed, decent, very human people. It looks at human actions and morality with an unflinching bravery that is rare in contemporary fiction.
Buy it. Read it. It will keep you company for a long time.
Everland is a book about Antarctic exploration. It takes the story of two expeditions to the fictional titular island, each comprising three people. The first expedition takes place in 1913, the second is set in 2012, to celebrate the centenary of the first disastrous landing. Author Rebecca Hunt appears to draw on her experiences with the Arctic Circle residency to present a highly convincing picture of both a frozen landscape and of its effect on the vulnerable human body. This makes Everland a somewhat pungent book. I had recently read Hannah Kent's Burial Rites which, with an Icelandic setting, gives a similar feel of the odour generated by people huddled together in a freezing environment.
Secondly it is a book about the passage of time. There are frequent references to the lichen on the island, which lives for thousands of years, barely changing over the 100 year timescale of the book. At the other end of the spectrum is technology. The 20th century explorers are isolated for months at a time with rudimentary, barely adequate equipment. Their 21st century successors on the other hand have constant contact via radio, and the extent of their isolation is limited to being two hours away by sea plane. What doesn't change is their vulnerability in the face of the sheer unforgiving hostility of the environment. Hunt's main theme, however, is the constancy of human nature. She seemingly creates a basket of character traits which she shares between the earlier Dinners, Millet-Bass and Napps, and then redistributes them between the later Blix, Jess and Decker. Each party has a weak link who joined the party as a result of outside influence. Each has a no-nonense expert. Each has a leader struggling with the responsibility. Everland thus becomes a sort of dark and twisted Never-neverland in which human nature never grows up.
Thirdly it is a book about relationships under pressure. As the story of the two expeditions move along similar arcs, with clear parallels between the difficulties each faces, so the development of the relationships between the three main characters follow corresponding paths at either end of the century. In both there is an initial hostile divide between naivety and competence, with a seemingly more mature character keeping the peace. As time passes hostility turns to acceptance and diplomacy deteriorates into vindictiveness. A critical exploration of the effects of stress comes near the end of the 21st century thread when one of the characters takes an uncharacteristically selfish decision. Is this a piece of poor, unrealistic writing or is it a totally credible account of something having to give in a man squeezed by competing demands in an unbearably stressful situation?
Fourthly it is a book about how history is written by the victors. Early on the 2012 expedition watch a film based on the story of their predecessors, during which the supposed villain of the piece is roundly booed. Through the book we learn of the very different reality of the situation, and of why, to protect vested interests, the name of a noble if uncompromising man was blackened. This is repeated in both eras as characters reach sordid little compromises to obscure the truth of their own misdeeds.
The strengths of Everland are the apparent authenticity of the environment (I don't have the personal experience to judge this definitively) and in the complex characterisations of and relationships between the historical protagonists. The more modern characters are less successful. While they show some development, they start off as very crudely drawn stereotypes. I wasn't always convinced by the number of parallels between the two stories. The author at times seemed to be trying too hard, for example there is an incident involving the burying of meat in both timelines which seems almost peripheral to the plot, and only in there to create a temporal echo. It is also only vaguely explained (although one can guess at what happened).
Overall, Everland is a well researched, engrossing book with a narrative which both moves at a reasonable pace and keeps some of its secrets right up to the final denouement.
I have to admit that I wasn't able to finish this book. Reading the synopsis before buying it, I thought that I would immediately love it. The plot tells the story of two expeditions to Everland, an uncharted island in the Antarctic; the original one in 1913 and then a repeated one a hundred years later. The novel then splits between the narrative from the first expedition and the expedition a hundred years later. I thought I would love it because expeditions don't only have the discovery of a new territory as the point of interest; there is also the dynamic of the team plus the psychological and physical challenges that such exploration has on the people who venture forward. Unfortunately, EVERLAND just couldn't keep my interest.
For some reason, I found it hard to connect with any of the characters; both those from the 1913 expedition as well as the later one. Personally, I also didn't get a decent sense of place which was totally unexpected; if you are going to write about the Antarctic, you need to be able to bring this white, desolate land to life and I just didn't get a good enough sense of it here.
Unfortunately, this just wasn't for me.