His two companions were dead, his food and supplies had vanished in a crevasse, and Douglas Mawson was still 100 miles from camp.
On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.
Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”
This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders.
Author: David Roberts
Narrator: Matthew Brenher
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Running Time: 11hrs 39mins
Audio Release Date: 28/01/2013
My Rating of ‘Alone On The Ice’: 3 out of 5
I really like books that focus around adventurous expeditions and discovering our world in a time before satellites, comprehensive internet articles and well-stocked libraries of material made discovery such an easy thing for people in our modern age. The pioneers who put their lives on the line in environments they didn’t, and couldn’t, fully understand is a thing that draws me like a moth to a flame.
On the surface, ‘Alone on the Ice’ has everything my little adventurous heart could hope for. It has a daring artic expedition, it has tragedy that forces one man to attempt to not only survive, but escape the Antarctic on his own, and it has diary excerpts etc .. from the period. So I thought to myself ‘self, this is a good thing. Pick it up, run with it, and prepare to feel frozen to your toes as your walk alongside Mawson in your mind’s eye’.
And I did. But what my thoughts and hopes couldn’t prepare me for was what else this book had. A something else that I didn’t want and the book certainly didn’t need: a mixture of horrible pacing and unnecessary additional details. The pacing, firstly is something I can’t forgive. It was what gave this book, for me at least, a glass ceiling review score of three out of five. We start off on the expedition, something awful happens, I’m getting sucked in. I want to see where this goes. Well done author, I’m invested. Give it to me. Give. It. To. Me.
So we then cut to before everything happened so we can explore everyone involved in painful detail. We see how funding was attained, how much love for Shackleton Mawson has and how everyone came on to the expedition. Well done, author. I’m no longer invested. The excitement has been drained away.
We then cut back (we’re over a third of the way into the book now. So lots of time spent on that) to the beginning of the expedition. Which confused the heck out of me as I had already witnessed one of the men die. Yet there he was, cheerfully plugging his way through the cold climes of the Antarctic. But that’s fine, I’m back on the ice and getting my head around that little blip in time. Right, we’re good to go. Yes, very much good to go. Good to go AWAY from the expedition and get to know Mawson and friends even more. So much time was given to the way Mawson met his wife, how he accepted the expedition photographer etc … that I’m struggling. Seriously struggling to see how this is the greatest account of survival in history. It’s the lengthiest build up, I’ll give it that.
This continues throughout the book and it left me realising that the survival aspect boils down to walking on half/less than half rations per day to try to get back to your base camp. I’m not taking anything away from Mawson. The man was super-human who endured awful experiences and some of the most painful things I can imagine. Any man who has the soles of his feet fall of and carries on is a certified beast in my book. I certainly could not have done it and I know that trained pros have been unable to replicate his feats of endurance. That isn’t my issue. My issue is taking the bare bones of his story, realising his powers of survival were that good that you could sell books of this stuff, and slapping inordinate amounts of filler into, onto and around the actual survival. That’s my issue. I feel like I’ve been sold one part story two parts lie.
To carry on the lie, the author slips one into the blurb. According to the blurb: On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”. That’s absolute nonsense. In the book Mawson clearly states he could tell the man was thinking ‘which one are you?’ but that isn’t quite as eye-grabbing a line as the adjusted version.
Overall, I enjoyed the actual survival parts and I really enjoyed the historical look back at the end where we are told what became of everyone involved, the legacies of the men that died and just the entire aftermath of the AAE. I also felt connected to the expedition throughout due to the diary entries. Those things alone fought bravely against the negativity in the pacing and padding to keep this at a three rather than dipping any lower.
For the most part I enjoyed the narration. It was clear and concise. The only issue I had with it was the way he pronounced ‘chocolate’. He said it ‘choc-lit’. It was said so often near the end that I wished Mawson hadn’t brought any of the blasted stuff. It may well have saved his life … but my god, was that frustrating to hear. I know, I know, it’s a petty gripe. But the narrator walked in to a room that had me already seething over poor pacing and extra padding. So the poor chap got moaned at as well.