The Birthday Boys, by Beryl Bainbridge

The story of Scott's ill-fated race to the Antarctic, told in the form of first-person accounts by various members of the expedition.

I had a bit of trouble working out exactly what genre this book fits into: it reads a bit like a series of diaries, including one by Scott, and presumably the author drew heavily on the real diaries which were kept by the men. But it is not just a record of the trip, since there are many cases where the "writers" reminisce about time gone by, and also the timelines jump about a bit, so the ending of one extract isn't necessarily followed by another taking up the story at the same situation. And although there is some information on their home lives, there's not really enough to make you feel you know their friends and families, let alone feel concerned on their behalf about the mens' fate.

And I don't think the book sets out to make a ripping tale out of it: in fact, apart from the final section when they reached the pole and attempted to return home, I found it quite hard to work out what had been going on. Reading about the expedition on the web since finishing the book, things make more sense, but I don't think it can have been Bainbridge's main objective to tell the story of what happened.

So, I did learn something about the trip, and the personalities of the people on it - for example that Scott made some pretty dubious decisions about how to lead the expedition and that Oates for one was not happy with them - but not as much as I would have done from reading an the Wikipedia entry on Scott. So that's not the reason to read the book.

I think what the book provides is a very well written and evocative picture of the feelings of the men at the time, some of whom you end up liking more than others. I've not read the real diaries so don't know how accurate this fictionalisaton of their feelings is, but it is very plausible. I don't think it's really my kind of book - I think I felt the same about "Every Man for Himself", a book she wrote about the Titanic, so I probably won't bother with any more...

Completed : 11-May-2004 (audiobook)

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