Non-fiction: Peter Matthiessen: End of the Earth (National Geographic Society, 2003)
This is the worst Antarctica book I’ve read so far. Its crimes include pointlessness and a lack of content, but far worse is its surprising ability to resist reading. Whether I’m tired or feeling sharp, after reading half a page my mind wanders and after a while I’m not sure where I’m going on the page. Then I guiltily skip a paragraph or two, pretending to myself I read them already.
The subject is actually new to me. The book is about two bird-watching expeditions to the archipelagoes surrounding the continent, moving in a Finnish-built Russian icebreaker inside the pack ice. It could be interesting if the writer was not phoning it in in this atrocious fashion.
I can’t remember the last time two hundred pages took me this long to read.
Non-fiction: Roland Huntford: Shackleton (Abacus 1996, orig. 1985)
One of Roland Huntford’s three massive biographies of the explorers of the Heroic Age, I left this for the last because Shackleton is so fashionable these days, I’ve gone through his story three times so far already, once in Shackleton’s own account, South, about his third and most famous Antarctic expedition, once in a documentary movie about the same expedition, and once in a fiction movie, eyet again about the same expedition. I’ve had enough of Shackelton.
The other two Huntford biographies are The Last Place on Earth, about Scott and Amundsen, and Nansen.
It says something about Huntford’s skill that the story seems fresh again, perhaps because of all the context and detail he provides. Huntford clearly has great affection for his main character, but that doesn’t stop him from assessing Shackleton’s weaknesses and foibles in a very honest way. I was bored of Shackleton before I read this, and now I learned to like him again.
Non-fiction: Christer Boucht: Lähdin Etelämantereelle (Kirjayhtymä, 1993)
This is the first Antarctica book I read in Finnish. Although the author is a Finn, it’s originally been published in Swedish. It’s about a 78-year old guy who goes on one of the Adventure Network trips to Antarctica in the late Eighties. It’s a pretty trivial, flimsy book, but some of the details are charming. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the flavor of Boucht’s prose is very similar to that of Kemppinen. They’re both old Finnish lawyer guys. Maybe they learn to write like this in law school?