The Birthday Boys

This 1991 novel is beautifully constructed in five parts.Each is recorded by one member of Scott's final polar party. In turn, P.O. Evans, Dr. Wilson, Scott himself, Lt Birdie Bowers and Capt. Oates, each tell a slice of their famous and tragic story. Since everyone already knows how the story comes out, the book doesn't offer the reader a chronological plod through well-worn events Instead, it skips. Refracted through the multiple viewpoints, we get not only different views of events and personalities. We catch the heroes in consistencies and outright lies, spot their self-deceptions and fatal delusions. It's a fascinating trick to render depth of character, something like the old stereopticon pictures. This is a book about that depends upon character and point of view - and what crucially and tragically does not. Bainbridge is a master of the period and has researched her material thoroughly, rarely putting a foot wrong. The bits that's she's made up are so seamlessly worked in that you really do feel that this is how it must have happened. There are relatively few works of fiction about Scott, and this is surely one of the best.

This review was written by Brenda W. Clough, author of Doors Of Death and Life, available from Tor Books.

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