"Alec Ramsey lived through a disastrous Antarctic expedition, survived where his leader had perished, and outlived the only other survivor.
"Forty years later, as Director of Extensions at a provincial red-brick university, he is still harried by a sense of guilt and obsessed by the fate of Dr Leeming, the leader of the expedition. His obsession worsens, threatening his marriage, his career and his sanity.
"Through a summer of campus life and comedy, and flashbacks to the epic journey, Keneally takes Ramsey and the reader to the crisis point: the news, that rivets Australia and New Zealand, of the possible discovery of Dr Leeming's body.
"What will be revealed if the body is found? In an attempt to come to terms with the past and the present Ramsey returns once more to the Antarctic, to learn if he is, after all, the survivor."
At the beginning of his sixty-third, decisive summer, Alec Ramsey drove down from his university town on the tableland to the wheat, sheep, and cattle towns on the inland plains. Beyond Milton, where he picked up Kable, the browned fields and retarded crops of wheat seemed omens, strangers to this rich plain, wandered in from a remoter west for one bad season. Kable, assistant director of Extension (as he was called) and Ramsey's lieutenant, was cheery. Ramsey has often heard that Kable coveted the post of director; and he would have given it up to Kable without much argument that summer. In the meantime, Kable directed the large Extension office the university kept in Milton, eighty miles from the campus itself. Kable's succulent bride, Valerie, saw to it that when she and her spouse were in Alec Ramsey's presence they maintained a sober tone of almost antiphonal, versicle-and-response naivety, luring others into forays of irony and self-betrayal. But away from Valerie, Kable could not manage to keep this front up. For instance, he asked with a directness Valerie would have found alien, "Alec, why didn't Morris Pelham do this trip?"
From the Fontana paperback edition, 1979.
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Last modified: March 26, 2001.