We’re seeing less and less of Doris lately, but I’m happy to say that everybody’s favourite
grouchy ill-tempered opinionated granny person is joining us today to discuss Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz. It’s a re-telling in narrative non-fiction style of Scott’s ill-fated mission to be the first to reach the South Pole and we received our copy for review from Allen & Unwin. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Together, they have taken on the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success; never giving up, and never giving up on each other.
This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica and the memorable characters, who with a band of shaggy ponies and savage dogs, follow a man they trust into the unknown.
Battling storms at sea, impenetrable pack ice, maneating whales, crevasses, blizzards, bad food, extreme temperatures, and equal measures of hunger, agony and snow blindness, the team pushes on against all odds.
But will the weather hold? Will their rations be adequate? How will they know when they get there? And who invited the Norwegians?
Into the White will leave you on the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that Scott and his men might survive their Antarctic ordeal to tell the tale.
I only knew the bare bones of this tale of epic adventure –
Epic idiocy, you mean.
Yes, welcome back Doris.
As I was saying, before reading this book I only knew the absolute basics of Scott’s mission. Actually, to be honest, I only knew about the very ending bit, with Oates’ famous, “I’m going out for a walk” quote and Scott’s subsequent death from hunger and exposure-
His death from the crushing weight of his own egotism, you mean.
…so finding out about the events leading up to the bit I knew about was both fascinating and completely baffling.
There you are, you got to the nub of it in the end.
So you agree with me, then, that this is essentially a story about a group of blokes on a boys’ own adventure who were supposed to be undertaking proper scientific research but decided to pick out pack ponies based on the colour of their hides? Doesn’t sound very scientific to me, deary, and look where that got them! Dead in the snow. Them AND their unscientifically chosen ponies!
Yes Doris, I do have to agree with you there. There was a certain sense of frustration that characterised this story right from the very beginning, although this had nothing to do with the writing of the story and everything to do with the facts. The very first page tips you off, in case you know nothing about the mission, that Scott’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, but to discover the bizarre, avoidable and beginner-level mistakes that were made on the journey –
by a third-time Antarctic adventurer no less…
-Quite! – made reading this feel like wading through snowbanks while wearing a wet-suit and flippers and dragging a massive box of rocks behind you.
Enough of this shilly-shallying.
Let’s cut to the chase.
If you want to spend 250+ pages scratching your head, shouting “Turn back you imbeciles!” and hoping everyone gets sucked into an ice chasm, before finding out that it was all for nowt as the Norwegians beat them to it, this is the book for you.
I will admit that I did end the book wondering why Scott’s epic failure has been so lovingly recorded while Amundsen’s story – the leader of the Norwegian expedition that started closer, covered less dangerous terrain, and ultimately resulted in the first flag-planting at the South Pole – has been ignored.
It’s because people like to read about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off. It’s called Schadenfreude.
You may be right there, Doris.
To focus on the actual writing for a moment, as opposed to the historical event itself, while I found the information quite interesting, the narrative style felt a tad detached for my liking. This may have been deliberate, in that it certainly contributes to the atmosphere of a long, fruitless slog toward ultimate failure and death, and also allows the reader to avoid becoming too attached to characters that will eventually die, but all in all reading this felt like more of a history lesson and less like something I would read for enjoyment at times.
The book contains chapter heading illustrations throughout and also features actual photographs from the expedition in the centre. These were a great touch and added the needed link with the reality of the conditions under which the expedition was labouring to bring the story to life a little more. At the end of the book a collection of appendices includes short descriptions of Scott’s prior attempts on the South Pole alongside Earnest Shackleton, as well as as Shackleton’s later, unsuccessful Antarctic mission. A short section on Amundsen’s expedition is included here too, which I found most interesting.
If you know any young history buffs in the upper middle grade and YA age bracket –
Or people who enjoy a good dose of Schadenfreude, while reading about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off…
-you might recommend Into the White. I can’t say I really loved reading it because although the story itself contains plenty of action and setbacks that should have kept me interested, I got caught up in the epic folly of so many of the decisions that were made along the way that resulted in the men’s deaths. And I just can’t get over their whoppingly unscientific choice of pack pony.
Any final thoughts, Doris?
Needed more women in it to tell the blokes how ridiculous they were being.
Thanks for that Doris.
I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #14: a book involving travel. You can check out my progress toward all my challenges for this year here.
Until next time,