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Fact or fiction?
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.