Pushed to their physical and psychological limits, the three members of a grueling expedition to an Antarctic island, following in the footsteps of a similar but failed venture a century earlier, experience disturbing echoes of the mysterious, fated past.
Darker and significantly less whimsical than her noted debut (Mr. Chartwell, 2011), British author Hunt’s second novel is a minutely layered consideration of character, endurance, and how historical “truth” comes to be enshrined. In alternating chapters it follows twin scientific expeditions to an inhospitable location christened Everland by its first visitors in 1913. This initial trio is led by Napps, a tough, charismatic, misunderstood man subsequently mythologized as the villain of the tragedy that ensued. Napps' and seaman Millet-Bass’ remains were never found, but the group’s third member, scientist Dinners, was rescued, rejoining a crew which reached its own, skewed conclusions about events. In 2012, a second, infinitely better equipped team of three returns to Everland, this time led by old-hand Decker. Tensions and allegiances in the group are not so different from the ones that imperiled Napps’ party, and despite their superior technology, similar failings threaten the modern team’s survival. Hunt’s slow accumulation of pin-sharp detail, her psychological scrutiny and evocation of a scouring landscape with sinister undertones all lend a grim compulsion to the storytelling. As overlapping disasters befall the two groups, so the screaming intensity of their plights deepens. And as it does, Hunt poses searching questions of human nature in extremis and honorable conduct when faced with the starkest of survival choices.
As much a cerebral story as an action-driven one, and sometimes dry in its scrupulousness; nevertheless this is an intricate, resonant novel, both immediate and arrestingly thought-provoking.