Antarctic Navigation

Elizabeth Arthur, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (798p) ISBN 978-0-679-41895-5
In a triumph of the novelist's art, Arthur (Looking for the Klondike Stone) brings a wide-ranging intelligence and curiosity, a compelling skill in character portrayal and a moral gravity to this 800-page story of human quest. In chronicling the growing obsession of her heroine, Morgan Lamont, to recreate the doomed 1910 Antarctic Expedition of Robert Falcon Scott, Arthur painstakingly develops Morgan's complex character, credibly establishing her spiritual kinship with the failed explorer and her determination to understand the true meaning of his journey. Early on, Morgan tries to fathom the mysteries of life, seeking to find both her spiritual and intellectual center as she becomes disillusioned with contemporary society's rapacious plundering of the environment. In a backgrounding that some readers may find a bit overly convenient, many of the the people Morgan grows up with are social misfits whose strange obssesions, preternaturally developed senses of smell and balance and altered views of the world eventually make them ideally suited to the Ninety South Expedition she leads (when she is only 27), a $10 million endeavor financed by her crusty millionaire grandfather. The first part of the book, which lays the groundwork for the expedition by describing the seemingly random events that shape character and purpose, is in some ways more dramatic than the actual arrival in Antarctica, when the narrative slows to record the day-to-day details. But the pace picks up again once the perilous expedition to the South Pole actually commences, as an all-consuming love affair and flaws in her own character lead Morgan into some crucial blunders that bring the group to the brink of catastrophe. Throughout, Arthur palpably renders landscape and weather and the natural world. She is a meticulous observer, a prodigious researcher who integrates into the narrative not only exhaustive detail about the Antarctic continent (where she actually spent some months on a grant from the National Science Foundation) and the rigors facing those who attempt to traverse it, but also principles of physics, philosophy and animal psychology, ethnology and ancient Greek history. The ending does lose some of the novel's tension while Arthur waxes polemical about humanity's tendency to make war and despoil the environment. Yet this contributes to this novel's substance and richness, its ability to integrate essential truths about human character with fascinating information about the ``highest, driest, coldest place on earth.'' Maps. Author tour. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/1995
Release date: 01/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 796 pages - 978-0-345-40207-3
Hardcover - 978-0-517-16996-4
Paperback - 798 pages - 978-0-7475-7167-4
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