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The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

The Birthday Boys

by Beryl Bainbridge

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4151138,112 (3.93)71
  1. 00
    The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Bainbridge weaves fiction out of Cherry-Garrard's narrative, focusing on each of the five men in the fatal Polar Journey.
  2. 00
    Fram by Tony Harrison (rrmmff2000)
  3. 00
    The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett (alalba)

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This is a very interesting retelling of the Scott Terra Nova (South Pole) expedition - five chapters, each told from the viewpoint of one of the five men who died on the trip to the Pole. They are known to us today primarily through their letters and journals and through the writings of others who knew them, including members of the Antarctic expedition who weren't part of the final push south.

It's fiction, of course, but Bainbridge has obviously read up on the subject. As a fan of Antarctic history and fiction, I found this a very thoughtful treatment. I do think some knowledge of the topic would make a big difference to how much the book can be appreciated and enjoyed. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Feb 22, 2019 |
Received via Open Road Media and NetGalley in exchange for an completely unbiased review.
Also posted on Silk & Serif

The Birthday Boys is a novel about perseverance. This novel is a look at humanity in the face of increasingly inhospitable conditions and the camaraderie of a group of ill-fated scientific explorers whose story is evidently famous. Personally, I know little of this expedition and have only read works on the Shackleton expedition. I honestly had no idea there was a second expedition on route at the exact same time as Shackleton’s until I read this account. Regardless, the perilous nature of the arctic during this time is well envisioned by Bainbridge in this alternating narrative concerning the push to reach he pole.

Originally written in 1991, Birthday Boys is still a powerful fictional account of Captain Scott's expedition to the Antarctic in 1912 and should still be consumed by readers of today. Bainbridge marries the style of classic novels and modern flair to create a haunting account of the ill-fated voyage and her doomed crew.

I found Bainbridge’s tale of survival on the ice sheets illuminating in a few ways. First, there were probably far more expeditions to the pole than what is in popular historical record. Second, all expeditions sent to the pole during this era were doomed. Modern technology has made living on the polar caps possible – although still incredibly difficult – but the early explorations relied on human capital and luck to survive these conditions. Today we have insulated parkas, heated buildings and advanced medicine to combat the effects of the elements, yet during Captain Scott’s expedition in 1912 they took ponies, basic medical supplies and sleeping bags made of material that freeze solid when wet. It is one thing to rationally understand the conditions early expeditions encountered, but another entirely to read a fictional account based on historical records. The suffering the members of this expedition and their animals faced was sometimes difficult to read.

The men of the Scott expedition continued to dream about their loved ones and the warm sunshine until the very end of their tales. Each man held onto the knowledge that soon enough they would set sail from the Arctic and return home - many of which planned to make this journey their last and settle down.

Birthday Boys was a sad tale about an ill fated voyage. I did not know what to expect going into this novel and was frankly surprised by the ending. I also found the characters to be a tad difficult to differentiate from when I had taken a break from the intense and often overwhelming monologues of the crew. Each crew member recounts their experience before setting sail for the Arctic, and each reveals their experiences on the ice once cold, frost bite and hunger set in. Hostility, fear and depression set in and each crew member recounts how they suffered. What really stuck with me once I finished reading Birthday Boys was the hope the crew members continued to hold until the very end.

Unfortunately, there isn't much more I can say about this novel. It was short but difficult to read, it was well written but often too intense and it will undoubtedly be a classic some day. Strong characters, realistic situations and a well researched fictional account of a real event with an exploration of the psychological effects the doomed crew of Scott's expedition experienced on their final journey to the top of the world.

This novel will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, psychological exploratory novels and novels with extremely dark subject matter. A warning to readers that this novel does not have a happy ending and the struggles of all involved are not for the faint of heart. This well written, thoroughly researched and beautiful novel may fool readers by it's small size, but is as densely packed as any popular classic novel. ( )
  trigstarom | Jan 1, 2019 |
I know enough about the Scott Expedition to Antarctica to know that Beryl Bainbridge captured the essence of the adventurers' courage and determination in the five different voices she channeled. The angle about each of the men 'celebrating' a birthday under formidable circumstances humanized their predicament. I liked getting the different perspectives of their journey and their impressions of what they endured. I had previously listened to much of The Worst Journey in the World based on one of the survivor's journals and found Bainbridge's fictionalized accounts spot on.

Each of the five narratives advances the quest to reach the South Pole. It was heartbreaking that for all their efforts they would be second to the Norwegians. It is evident that Scott's leadership was inept and just as evident that his men were loyal and brave to the end. The book is a labor of love and a tribute to the men who wouldn't turn back. I recommend this book to those who enjoy retellings of true adventure stories. ( )
1 vote Donna828 | Jun 16, 2015 |
This pulled me in more than I expected, despite the very gruesome details of freezing to death in Antartica. The four narratives were an interesting effect, though I found I never really got a consistent sense of Birdie and totally lost track of which Evans was which. The utter tragic stupidity of the expedition really hits home with the final narrative by Oates. I will need to read some history of it now.
  amyem58 | Sep 8, 2014 |
Beryl Bainbridge captures the iciness, the darkness, the danger, the heroism, and the horror of the Scott expedition to the South Pole through the voices of the five men who reached the Pole and died just short of a supply depot on their return to base camp. Because I read, and was fascinated by, The Coldest March by Susan Solomon, I was familiar with the story and the cast of characters; I'm not sure whether this enhanced the novel for me or lessened the impact of Bainbridge's amazing writing because I knew what happened.

Unlike some of her other novels, in which much is allusive, here Bainbridge tells the story straightforwardly. Each man narrates a part of it, chronologically, from boarding the Terra Nova in June 1910 to the final days in March 1912, and each tells it in his own distinctive voice. Part of what makes this fascinating is that the reader gets different perspectives on each of the characters, not only of the men who died but also of wives and mothers left behind and of other participants in the expedition. In addition to telling a compelling tale of a compelling series of events, Bainbridge conveys both the discipline and the challenges of British naval tradition at the dawn of the 20th century, the lure of exploration and of science, and above all the beauty and danger of the Antarctic landscape. This is one of her best novels (of the ones I've read so far).
3 vote rebeccanyc | Dec 2, 2012 |
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For Petty Officer Jan Boud and Leading Stoker David Tomlinson
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We left West India Dock for Cardiff on the first day of June. None of us were sorry, least of all the Owner.
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A fictionalized account of Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912, told from several points of view, Scott's as well as that of his men. The London Evening Standard called it "a daring leap of emphatic imagination."

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