Death On The Ice – Robert Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a weighty tome and there are times early on when you begin to wonder why Ryan is including so much back-story. He focuses on Capt. Scott (obviously);, Katherine, his wife and Capt Oates and he weaves a thread between their particular journeys towards the events of the fateful South Polar Expedition of 1910-1912.
Once the expedition narrative begins, however, you soon realise the value of all that back story. The interactions between Scott and Oates become something built upon their own stories. Katherine’s story also comes to life because of what you read earlier. Knowing about their journey towards the expedition leads to greater empathy with their own journey to the pole. You feel every strain, every frustration and every grief as they struggle towards their goal.
This book is one a handful that have moved me to tears – and its been a while since any did. The devastation of the men when they first see Amundsen’s flag is portrayed in such a way that I could sense the heartbreak and grief. In the end you see this a story of brave men, in impossible circumstances which were not all down to chance. There is no pretence here that Scott was a victim of bad luck or that others in the party were solely to blame for the tragic failure. There is also no laziness in simply blaming Scott for everything. The tale is woven such that you are aware of the difficulties caused by poor-decisions, pressure by Amundsen turning south and the fact they faced such freakishly bad weather and what appears to be simple bad luck.
This is a novelisation of course and Ryan admits where he has embellished the tale for artistic reasons but the overall feeling of the book is that you have been part of a story behind the facts. It may be one author’s interpretation but you cannot escape the feeling of empathy and admiration for those brave, stupid, stubborn, flawed but ultimately heroic men.
This is a champion among novelisations. Fantastic read.