I have no idea whether the words “if you like this then you will like…” make you shudder or make you take notice. I also have no idea when I pair up books, as per my last post, whether you think “I will try both of those” or whether you think “too much information”.
In spite of all these doubts, I am going to revisit a book that I read during the Man Booker long-list process and will recommend another book that has a distinct relationship with the first.
You may recall that I was not particularly kind to this book when considering it as a possible candidate for the Man Booker prize, [Man Booker Longlist 2016-3]. I recommended it as a good read but thought it would not reach the coveted prize, so far, so right – as it is not on the shortlist.
Actually, as Hilary Mantel writes on the cover, it is a fast-paced historical thriller. It covers a period when one industry is dying, along with its principal prey and another is being found it its place. All taking place against a backdrop of the cold waters around the Arctic Circle, where the loss of a ship spells mortal danger.
The other book, which I read more recently, is of another order all together. This book, part human love story and part environmental love song, takes us to Antarctica where a young woman, Deborah (always called Deb) guides tourists around the penguin colonies and the icy cold waters around that continent.
Although she acts as a tour guide, she is also a research assistant to the Antarctic Penguin Project (fictional) and helps with the counting, recording and tagging of penguins, especially Adélies, whose lives, habitats and habits are steadily being eroded as more and more tourists visit this area. Once in single figures, then in the hundreds, it is now in the thousands: Antarctica is accessible and on the “bucket list” of wasteful things to do before you die – and some people die trying [not unlike Everest].
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond, her first novel, is an elegy to a part of our planet that should be pristine and yet isn’t; should be protected and yet the protections are failing; is a clear indicator of climate change and yet the facts are dismissed as anecdotal.
All this, by way of a very real and terrible experience of love, bravery and frailty, combine to make a wonderful book. The narrative is not obscured by the plea for attention to the environment, or for the information about penguins, whose comic appearance belies a lifestyle of patience, fortitude and loyalty (which is, I know, to anthropomorphise horribly) in the pursuit of survival; it sweeps us up into a backwards and forwards life adventure of this young naturalist who has a passion for penguins.
Both books encounter and share a dangerous symmetry – boats, cold water and possible disaster. Page-turning and un-put-downable, they tear you apart one minute and relieve you the next. They are not great literature – but both are a rattling good read.