A Victim of the Aurora
"Captain Stewart selected the members of his great expedition with exemplary care, each man hand-picked for the qualities that would enable him to withstand the rigours and awful isolation of the Antactic winter. He felt certain that he had gathered the cream of british manhood. But in an era when shame was a reality, each man carried his shame encapsulated wuthin him. In the emotional pressure cooker of the expedition headquarters and vigorously stirred by that arch mischief-maker Victor Henneker, the elements of disunion became ever more apparent, minor irritants swelled to intolerable proportions. For the young expeditionary artist, Anthony Piers, the century began to go wrong when Henneker was unaccountably strangled on the day after mid-winter. To Piers the story of the murder is, in miniature, the pattern of our perilous century.
"In a sense this is Thomas Keneally's first detective story, yet those who wish to find only the elements of a traditional whodunit should look elsewhere. This is an astonishingly vivid evocation of a polar expedition before the First World War; to read it is to enter that harsh, monastic world, to smell 'the cocoa and the acetylene lamps, the drying termal underwear before the stove and the acid smell of Siberian pony dung...' Still more, it is a compelling study of human nature under stress, of a small group of brave men facing not only the terrors of nature but the still more insidious threat from their own minds. Thomas Keneally has never written with greater eloquence or authority."
"The absolute dark, the absolute cold of the Antarctic he evokes with such skill as to vault us past our ordinary, concerns with one another. I became so cold reading it in mid-August that I longed for bedsocks. Keneally is never pretentious, his prose has a resonance which sets the eventual execution of the murderer against the background of eternity. Expediency - even righteousness - are given their shallow due. With this novelist, no amount of addition or subtraction can aid us in the face of death..." - Anne Redmon, The Sunday Times
"One of Thomas Keneally's great virtues is his ability to recreate the past without lapsing into costume drama, and A Victim of the Aurora is both convincing and powerfully written." - Jeremey Lewis, The Times
"A Victim Of the Aurora is a rattling yarn; more than that, it is a good read. The delicious readability of the novel recalls writers of the same period, such as Rider Haggard. The historical and geographical detail is exact." - Angela Carter, Guardian
"Thomas Kencally is a powerful and subtle writer, whose simplicity of style must never be confused with simplicity of meaning." - Peter Ackroyd, Spectator
Once, sometime in the 1930s, when journalists pressed me about the Henneker rumours, I cried out: 'We were the great New British South Polar Expedition.' We were the apogee, I was implying, of old-fashioned britannic endeavour. If we lied, then we all institutions were liars.
Perhaps it was some kind of Antarctic sasquatch or wild man who got him? the journalists pursued. I made a face as if they didn't deserve an answer. We were the great New British South Polar Expedition.
Journalists don't press any more. Could you imagine young Woodsteins flying out to the West Coast to grill me concerning Henneker's South Polar fate?
From the Collins hardback edition, 1977.
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Last modified: December 14, 2001.