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4.2 out of 5 stars
42
The Birthday Boys
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on 22 January 2018
One of my favourite books. I was lucky enough to attend an English Literature A Level event where Beryl Bainbridge read some of this - and I bought the book because of it! It's a beautifully written, gripping account of Scott's last expedition, and you really feel as if you're actually there. Somehow she manages to convey exactly what it's like to be battling through the elements, even though I think the closest she came to the South Pole was probably Croydon. Wonderful.
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on 30 November 2013
This is a cleverly constructed book - but ultimately I think I was a little disappointed.

Bainbridge sets out to tell part of the story of Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole - starting as the Terra Nova (Scott's ship) leaves Cardiff in June 1910, and ending in early 1912 when Oates leaves the tent to die. She does this via a series of 5 fictionalised episodes, each written in the first person by one of the five who died on their return from the Pole - Evans, Wilson, Scott himself, Bowers and Oates. Each of the 5 tell a part of the whole story, and a little of their own story. So the book is not entirely fact, and it is not entirely fiction, though is based on historical fact which Bainbridge has researched in impressive detail.

Using what is therefore a rather novel framework, Bainbridge embroiders each of the five's account, in an attempt to look deeper into what made each of them 'tick', as individuals. And she takes on board quite a lot of the more recent critical perceptions of the expedition, which claim that all was certainly not as first described by Scott himself (in his diaries) and in other early accounts.

I was disappointed because ultimately, despite the intriguing structure of the book, and also its readability, it told me nothing very new about Scott and his companions. For example, in the Wilson episode, Wilson describes the appalling conditions encountered when he, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard travelled to Cape Crozier in 1911 in search of emperor penguin eggs. Other reviewers marvel at Bainbridge's descriptive prowess in telling Wilson's story. But for me, her account does not bear comparison with Cherry-Garrard's own first-hand telling of the story (see 'The Worst Journey in the World'), published in 1922.

Scott was an enigma. And, for me, he remains an enigma. This book was a pleasant, if not very demanding read. But not a lot more.
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on 22 September 2015
I really enjoyed this book. As usual for a Beryl Bainbridge book it is a slim volume but all the best for it. She has the laudable ability to paint a picture with few words, no voluminous and unnecessary prose but instead a beautifully poetic and incise use of language. The story, a series of individual chapters told by the participants of the final expedition team, was both fascinating and dramatic. I hesitate to say enlightening as after all this is a novel and I can understand those reviewers who claim that they have learnt nothing new. However I personally learned a great deal from this novel, accepting that I am in no way an authority on the subject matter, whilst enjoying it in the manner that it is meant to be enjoyed and that is as a novel based on fact and not a documentary. I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good yarn based around one of the greatest, if unsuccessful, feats of human endeavour.
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on 8 October 2014
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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on 30 January 2012
I first read this fictionalised retelling of the Terra Nova polar expedition several years back and it was the first thing on the subject I read. Returning to it, having devoured everything I could find on the topic between then and now, was an interesting experience. I now feel so much closer to and more knowledgeable about the brave and foolhardy characters involved, so I can better appreciate just how persuasively Bainbridge captures the individual voices of the five doomed men on that final polar trek: from working-class Taff (Bainbridge, as always, shows razor-sharp insight on issues of class), who hopes his wages from the expedition will be enough to buy him a pub, to the deeply spiritual and caring Wilson; indefatigable and loveable "Birdie" Bowers; Scott himself, who Bainbridge portrays with insightful complexity (particularly in his relationship with his deeply unconventional wife) and lastly, to taciturn Oates. The last chapter, which belongs to Oates, moved me to tears even second time around and contains some of the most powerful prose I've read anywhere. Short, but intense rather like the lives of some of the men depicted.
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VINE VOICEon 16 January 2014
An unexpected title. I didn't expect the subject to be about Scott of the Antarctic but it was done done so well. Of course all the time the reader knows that the expedition is a doomed one, and this adds to the fascination of the story. You have all the feelings and emotions of the men involved right to the bitter end.
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on 16 January 2011
"The Birthday Boys" is a short book which gives 5 different viewpoints by 5 members of Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1912, at 5 different stages of the journey. I have read several other books about this expedition and have to admit that I do prefer the sustained narrative of Robert Ryan's "Death on the Ice" which gives the reader the whole story. "The Birthday Boys" offers the reader detailed tantalising snapshots but leaves you wanting more. However, this is a well-crafted book which evokes the beauty of the Antarctic landscapes as well as the dogged determination of the polar explorers in the face of tremendous difficulties and physical privation, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.
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on 15 July 2015
Poignant and brilliantly written this short novel by Beryl Bainbridge is well researched and captures minute detail of the characters very well. although this paperback is not huge I feel that Ms Bainbridge has really got to know the five men she writes about and the short stories she builds around each one is touching and clever.
I'd highly recommend this - already I've read it more than once and every time I feel I get a bit closer to those brave men of the South Pole Expedition
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on 24 February 2011
Pleasant read - Th title is rather uninspiring. It's a fictional account of the attempt of the Terra Nova to reach the South Pole as seen by 5 main characters involved. It took a little while to get into then and then was sad when it ended (a rather short book). I think it is very well and cleverly written. I was constantly trying to disentangle fact from fiction. I warmed up to the characters and it's one of the books that I liked more and more after having read it and been thinking about a lot since I read it. It got me really interested to read Scott's diaries as I was not clued up on the original adventure at all. Definitely recommended.
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on 10 January 2018
Fine
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