on 18 August 2008
If actual physical pain can ever be distilled into words, Fiennes manages it in this gripping account of his crossing of Antarctica on foot from the Filchner Ice shelf via the Pole to the Ross Shelf. He and his long-term travelling companion Mike Stroud suffer every possible hardship short of death on what was planned to be - and succeeded in being - one of the last great adventures of the twentieth century. Without compromising the initial premise of the expedition (ie, to do the entire walk unsupported), the two men spent ninety seven days battling impossible odds.
The account is at times painful to read (Fiennes does not gloss over the horrors of it!), but is ultimately an inspiring story. Very few of us would consider spending one day as they spent over three months, but their grit, determination and sheer will to live shows just what the human spirit can endure. Yet, unlike many such writers, Fiennes never casts himself as a hero. In his books as in life, he comes across as a real, flawed and complex man. He has no point to prove. By the last page you might be convinced that spending three months in the wilderness with this man would not be much fun - but you would at least still be alive.
Fiennes is a rare writer. His style is both detailed and at times scholarly, but always highly readable. However many books on Polar exploration you may have read, you will still learn much from this ripping yarn. Although published in 1993, it has never been surpassed, and never will be. What Fiennes and Stroud did was the last great polar adventure, and even if someone came up with variation on it, no one could tell the story in quite such an breath-taking way.