Fig Tree £12.99
Book review: Everland By Rebecca Hunt
Sunday 23 March 2014
Never was there a blanker canvas than the Earth’s poles for showing off human folly. Once they were the obsession of reckless explorers, desperate to plunge flags into virgin territory. Nowadays they’re the preserve of scientists, eager to measure how swiftly we are destroying our planet.
Hunt’s novel concerns two Antarctic expeditions to the fictional island of Everland. They are widely separated in time. One is a legendary and infamous trip in 1913. Much later, the centenary of the tragedy is marked by a scientific sortie back to the island.
Part of Hunt’s research consisted of a sojourn of her own in the Arctic. Her accounts of dodging frostbite and of disorientating seasons of endless night or day have all the necessary verisimilitude.
But there is much more to Hunt than documentary realism. In her debut novel, Mr Chartwell, she imagined the fabled black dog of Winston Churchill’s depressions as a real life beast, to tremendous effect. Here her quirky creativity is evident again (she is a fine artist by background). Most obviously, there is the name of her eponymous setting: “Everland” recalls both the Neverland of Peter Pan and the seemingly immutable glories of the empire that reached its zenith before the First World War.
Her portrait of the 1913 expedition is faithful to the era of Scott and Shackleton. It takes pains to capture the era’s ludicrous masculine mores. The leader is Napps, a naval officer of an unusually judgemental bent. Millet-Bass, an easy-going seaman, and Dinners, a hapless and impractical naturalist, suffer under this stony martinet.
A century later, stresses remain in the follow-up trip, which also has three members. Fortunately, the leader this time, Decker, is as sensitive as he is seasoned. Of the two women under his command it is again the scientist, Brix, who lacks the necessary survival skills, to the chagrin of the formidably bitchy Jess.
Proximity and privation erode goodwill in each group, while the island’s eerie atmosphere exacts a toll. Hunt shows the schisms, some comical, others as forbidding as the crevasses slashing the landscape. And when crises arise, it is unclear whether solidarity can prevail over selfishness.
Everland deals with the conflict between historical records and the realities of the human relationships that lie behind them. Hunt delivers a story that manages to be both surreally absurd and grimly captivating.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 4 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 5 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
This little boy loves books so much that he cries when his mother stops reading to him
Prog rock finally comes of age with launch of the first Official Progressive Chart
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up