Monday, April 7, 2014

Where did the goal go?

While Barrett’s novel is character driven, Albanov’s is very much plot driven. Every sentence is an action sentence, which I like. In this way, “In the Land of White Death” reminds me of “Into Thin Air,” because while much attention is devoted to character development, “Into Thin Air” is mainly driven by action. Albanov writes, “The ship’s biscuits, before they were packed, were thoroughly dried, then placed in twenty-pound sacks and hermetically sewn closed. We took one of the three tents…” (p. 16). This is the action I like, but what boggles my mind is that Albanov never mentions who the “we” is. Although Albanov’s lack of character development boggles my mind, it does not bother me. Unlike others who have commented, I was moved by the lack of personal description, and I thought of this story as a story of man versus nature.

What also boggles my mind is that the crew is motivated by an unseen goal; they have no idea where they are headed or if they will get there. They don’t even have a map to guide them. Albanov writes, “Nansen was our only guide, and provided everything we knew about Franz Josef Land” (p. 17). It’s hard for me to imagine that the crew had no useful maps on board, and I laughed when Albanov wrote: “I copied down the altitude of the sun and astronomy charts for the coming year and a half” (p. 18). It’s pretty impressive to think that by looking at the altitude of the sun, Albanov could make his way to land. Ultimately, I appreciate the lack of a foreseen goal in the novel because what our previous readings suggest to us is that it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters in the end.

On the other hand, the climbing narratives we have read thus far present clear goals—usually goals of reaching the summit—that anchor the text. While reading “In the Land of White Death,” I wonder, is there something superior about climbing novels compared to novels about horizontal explorations? Is it the anchor of a goal, or the way a climb is presented?

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