The dramatic, fictionalized account of Robert Falcon Scott’s famed and fatal expedition to Antarctica by one of Britain’s best-loved authors.
Departing from Cardiff in 1910, the Terra Nova entered dark waters and headed south. On board were Petty Officer Edgar “Taff” Evans, Dr. Edward “Uncle Bill” Wilson, Capt. Robert Falcon “Con” Scott, Lt. Henry Robertson “Birdie” Bowers, and Capt. Lawrence Edward “Titus” Oates. Through an imaginative yet historically accurate retelling of the crew’s mission to become the first explorers to reach the South Pole—and with each of the book’s five chapters narrated from the unique perspective of one of these men—author Beryl Bainbridge imbues a tragic and thrilling adventure story with profound psychological, metaphysical, and emotional insight.
The first three chapters of The Birthday Boys—recounted by Evans, Wilson, and Scott, respectively—tell of the preparations and fundraising required for the journey, two stopovers in Madeira and South Trinidad Island, and the difficult conditions the expedition faces when they land on Antarctica. It is Wilson who first fears for the safety of the crew, when from atop the ship’s crow’s-nest he spies a fantastical half-man-half-bird creature flying above the sea. The doctor is certain this apparition is a harbinger of death. Troubles then ensue when Scott sets up a base camp at Cape Evans as well as several depots in the direction of the South Pole. The motor sledge breaks down almost immediately, several ponies are lost to the harsh elements, and it is revealed that a competing polar expedition led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen is already well ahead of Scott’s team.
In the final two chapters—told by Bowers and Oates—readers are taken on a dangerous but spectacular detour to a penguin rookery, where the men witness gorgeous auroras, build an igloo, gather eggs, and slaughter the arctic birds for their blubber. When a violent blizzard hits, it looks as if no one will make it out alive. But brotherly love in the face of all odds gives the men the power to survive, and the five heroes set off on their final march to the South Pole.
Though history has already revealed the catastrophic end of this tale, Bainbridge shows us the bravery, courage, and humanity essential to the adventure. Masterfully blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, The Birthday Boys is a compelling historical biography that challenges readers to discover truths that can only be reached through the imagination.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Beryl Bainbridge including rare images from the author’s estate.
Bainbridge, the idiosyncratic English author whose best-known books here are probably The Bottle Factory Outing and The Dressmaker , has never gained the American audience she deserves. The fact that this gripping, moving and hair-raisingly readable novel has taken three years to achieve publication here--and then only by a courageous and enterprising smaller publisher--suggests that Americans are still slightly wary of her. Readers should abandon such caution immediately, for this is by far her best book to date: a riveting account told in shifting first-person narratives by the key members of the doomed Antarctic expedition led by Captain Scott in 1912. It has been written about often before, and memorably filmed, but Bainbridge's cunningly fictionalized account leaves others standing. She takes on, in turn, the voices of burly, roistering Welsh Petty Officer Taff Evans; sweet-natured, scholarly, all-forgiving Dr. Edward (Uncle Bill) Wilson; Captain Robert Falcon Scott himself, a memorably complex man with a strong gift for command overlying deep inner fears and anxieties; Lieut. Henry (Birdie) Bowers, an endlessly energetic, curious, squat adventurer who has roved the world's perilous places alone; and aloof, sardonic, aristocratic Capt. Lawrence (Titus) Oates, a rich man beginning to realize his essential humanity in the months before his death. Every Englishman knows the agonizing end of their story, only hinted at in the book by a schoolgirl's map of their final death march back from the South Pole after being beaten there by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. A whole lost era of fantastic courage, determination, idealism, curiosity, boyish foolishness and class mores is brought brilliantly and touchingly back by Bainbridge's penetrating psychological acumen and her superb scene and action painting. The beauty and horror of the desolate landscapes, the painful limits of human endurance and bravery, are unforgettably caught in prose that is as swift, cool and clear as ice melt. A masterly achievement, not to be missed by anyone who cherishes a strong, meaningful story beautifully told.