Research Blog Antarctica #48

Fiction: Auden Bailey: Drifting at the Bottom of the World (Bella Books, 2002)

The second lesbian Antarctica book I’ve read, this is a novel written by a writer who has spent a number of seasons working in the Antarctic. First the good: the book has good detail, and has the feel of being written by someone who knows what they’re talking about. It also shows in the relationship the book has with the Antarctic: the issues seem like something you would come up with only after being there. That’s also the bad stuff: Bailey’s project with the novel is to infuse an aura of heritage, mystery, and narrative into the Antarctic ice. She seeks to humanize Antarctica, to give it the same kind of mythology the Arctic already enjoys thanks to the presence of people like the Inuits.

I like the fact that she engages in conceptual dialogue with Antarctica, but I don’t like what she’s doing. For me, the distinctive joy of Antarctica is its sheer inhuman, empty, meaningless, lethal white space. Bailey’s characters criticize some of the names given to places in the Antarctic by the early explorers as lifeless and unimaginative, names like “Black Island” and “White Island”. I love the stark place names. I love the mental space they conjure, of alien simplicity and reduction.

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