Research Blog Antarctica #169 – Forbush and the Penguins

Fiction: Graham Billing: Forbush and the Penguins (Coronet Books, 1970)

Considering that New Zealand is one of the two gateway countries to Antarctica (the other is Chile), it’s surprising that so few Antarctic creative works have come from there. Because of that, it was nice to read this novel, originally published in 1965, by the New Zealand author Graham Billing.

The story is simple: Forbush, a scientist, goes to Antarctica for a season to observe a penguin habitat. While there, he wrestles with loneliness and the brutality of nature. He’s forced to face himself because there’s not much else.

In terms of genre, Forbush and the Penguins is a serious literary novel, but one of its best qualities is a great emotional range. Its profound and hilarious, sad and clever. The scenes involving penguins and the skua who hunt them are hard to read although they describe simple natural phenomena. The parts where a delegation comes to visit Forbush and see the penguins are funny and feature an interesting stylized way of doing dialogue.

This is definitely one of the best Antarctic novels I’ve read. There’s also a movie version, which I’ll watch next.