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Birthday Boys

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  449 ratings  ·  37 reviews
The four men who accompanied Captain Scott on his doomed expedition each tell their own story in this fictional reconstruction of the attempt to reach the South Pole.
Paperback, 181 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Abacus Software (first published 1991)
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This is an oddly perfect book about Scott's trip to the South Pole.
There are five sections, each one written in the voice of one the men making the final journey.
The perspective keeps shifting, and it's left to the reader to try and work out the 'true' nature of the expedition. Was it an act of folly? A piece of heroism? Or both?
I love Beryl Bainbridge's work because she dispenses with so many conventions. The only 'plot' is the story of the journey itself. And like the journey there are unexpec
Adventures to the South Pole are not normally my thing, but Bainbridge writes this in such a way as to draw even the not normally entranced reader in. Each chapter is told by a different member of the party, and each narrator/narrative is entirely different. There are a lot of confusing things (hard to follow who is who at first, and some of the vocabulary is unfamiliar, and I can't make heads or tails of the geography in terms of where they are at any given point), but I gradually came to care ...more
When you think of the most famous words uttered in the heroic age of exploration, two lines stand out from the rest. One is Stanley with his greeting "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The other is Titus Oates walking out to his death in the middle of a polar storm in March 1912 with these deathless words:

"I'm just going outside and may be sometime."

What happened to Captain Oates in the moments after he emerged from the tent into the whiteness of Antarctica for the la
Scott's final, fatal South Polar expedition is narrated by five of the crew, including Scott, called The Owner and Con by various of the other "boys." Bainbridge renders it as a fiasco from the start, the Terra Nova a leaky tub requiring constant pump-manning, the ponies Scott wanted instead of dogs a spavined broken winded bunch badly chosen and ill-suited for Antarctic conditions, finances and supplies stretched thin. What they put up with is beyond comprehension, really, and the fact that the ...more
This is a fictionalised account of Robert Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1913. This slim book is written in the first person with each of the five chapters told from the point of view of a member of the expedition.

I had trouble getting into this book mainly finding the characters difficult to sympathise with. The obvious problem is that as fiction how much of the characters thoughts and feelings are accurate is open to debate. With this thought constantly in the back of your mind a
A fictionalized account of the doomed, foolhardy 1910-13 Antarctic expedition led by Captain Robert Falconer Scott. The story is related by five different members of the “Terra Nova” Expedition--Scott himself and four of the men personally selected by Scott for the doomed “Polar Party.” Each of the five explorers is granted his own section of this slender book, and all of the “Birthday Boys” are, to varying degrees, classic unreliable narrators.

Petty Officer Edgar (“Taff”) Evans, the giant Welsh
I'm going to preface this with the following pieces of information:
1. I have a significant interest (read: obsession) with the 1912 expedition and the mythologizing and subsequent demonizing of the members of that trip.
2. While I am by no means an expert on Scott I have read a fair deal of books on the expedition, including Scott's journals, bios, Cherry's book, etc.

The issue that many people have, mainly that it is distracting to fictionalize real people and presuppose their thoughts/feelings/e
Tamsin Burford
Creative personal reflection of the ill fated expedition of Captain Scott et al. A personal reflection because the author uses five different voices representing five different members of the team. The characters come forth in the writing quite well but I would have liked them to be more delineated. I found the long gaps int eh story difficult as I wanted to know more about those missing times.

A problem with this type of fictionalised account of very real events is that we allow ourselves to won
Beryl Bainbridge provides a lot of food for thought in this book, providing five disparate narrators and glimpses of life before the second polar expedition of Falcon Scott, as well as detailing the challenges of what must have been a truly horrendous experience. It was hard for me to get into a rhythm with this book, with lot of oblique references to earlier events and some unfamiliar English slang. I found that as it went on, it got easier for me to read. I highly recommend this book.
Jer McS
Among Bainbridge's best, easily.
The cynical and sometimes misanthropic narrative POV of some of her '70s fiction (re: Injury Time, The Dressmaker, The Bottle Factory Outing, Sweet William, etc) is always amusing...when you're in the mood.
This one, however, is a big change of pace. Not only is the subject matter historical, but the tone is empathetic and heartfelt. A chilling, tragic account of a doomed expedition.
Surely these were giants, not men. Their accomplishments are that huge, that breath-taking, that mythical. Yet, as Bainbridge portrays them in her spare and glittering prose, they were on the face of it ordinary chaps who simply managed to land themselves in the greatest quest then left on earth. The expedition, from its hopeful if fraught beginnings to its tragic end, becomes an extended metaphor for life, of course. When you consider the almost reverent tone in which some of the men refer to t ...more
Perhaps I was influenced by the raging snow storm outside my bedroom as I read the final chapters of this extremely well documented and rich in detail story of the doomed Scott expedition to the South Pole. (this is not a spoiler because everyone knows what happened)
I can understand men out looking for adventure and wanting to do things that had not been done before, but it seems to be so against the instinct of self-presevation for one to voluntarily go to such an extreme environment.

The last f
Fiona Hewlett-parker
Mesmerizing. Everyone knows this story, but this narrative, taken from the perspectives of different members of the expedition, is beautifully written and a vivid insight into a world that is lost forever. I wonder whether Scott was even aware of the mistakes that were made? A noble adventure?
Brenda Clough
A delicious book for all fans of polar exploration. The Scott expedition cries out for fictional treatment (I have done some work in this line myself) and this one is a great novel -- as I recall it was a finalist for the Booker award. Bainbridge was at the height of her powers when she wrote this, so it is the work of a master. The work is told from four or five separate viewpoints, and you can savor how beautifully the author gets into the voice of each man.
It helps if you (as probably all Bri
Emily-rose Guillebeau
This is one of the first books I read while I was in France. I read it in two sittings at the hostel, and I could have read it in one if my roommate hadn't insisted on sleeping. A fictional account of a doomed turn-of-century expedition to the south pole told in the first person by multiple narrators. Beryl Bainbridge uses the same narrative style in the Booker short-listed Master Georgie. Personally, I preferred Birthday Boys, but all of Bainbridge's books are such a joy to read. She creates pe ...more
I've read a lot on non-fiction on Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole so was interested to see how a novel based on it would work. Overall a success and a good read but I think Bainbridge got Evans character wrong. Since his section is the opening of the book it's sets the novel off badly. I was unconvinced that a rough Welsh sailor at the turn of the century would speak and think like that. The Scott and Oates sections are the strongest, she nails their characters much more accurate ...more
A fictionalized account of Scott's doomed voyage to the South Pole. Well written, and a fast read (in direct contrast with the true account of Captain Back's Arctic journey, which I've been working on for nearly a year now? Or is it two?).
This excellent account of Scott's final fatal expedition was recommended to me by a friend who is an amateur expert on the Shackleton and Scott Antarctic journeys. The fact that he still found Bainbridge's novel a valuable addition to his reading list speaks volumes really. This very short novelised account makes for difficult reading as the different characters step forward to have their say on the situation. Sensibly Bainbridge chose to omit Cherry-Garrard, whose The Worst Journey in the World ...more
Tim Petersik
Almost step of the Robert "Falcon" Scott attempt to be the first to set foot on the South Pole was tragic. Facing horrible weather, even for the pole, and hindered by the use of ponies rather than sled dogs, Scott's group nearly died reaching the pole. When they got they found that the Norseman Bundeson had beaten them using sled dogs. The entire group perished from hunger and cold on the disastrous trek back to base. In this novel, Bainbridge fictionalizes the famous story, making it seems as t ...more
The Birthday Boys is a fictionalised account by Beryl Bainbridge of Scott's second Antarctic expedition.
Told from the standpoint of the five members of the polar team who all died on the return journey, it at times comic, exciting and also of course tragic.
I enjoyed this book so much that after finishing it I started reading "The Unsung Hero" the story of Tom Crean, an Irish seaman who made three journeys to the Antarctic and is acknowledged by his peers to be one the polar greats.
George Ilsley
Fascinating account of the inner landscape of several of the participants in Scott's doomed South Pole expedition.
I read this in July 2010, the month that Beryl Bainbridge died. I hadn't read any of her books for years. This was enjoyable and well-written, about Captain Scott's doomed expedition told by the five who reached the South Pole and perished there, beaten by Amundsen.
Stacey Smith
This is a fascinating book about Captain Robert Falcon Scotts doomed exploration to the South Pole. While the expedition was doomed there are many beautiful moments in the book...mainly of will and human courage. One that I liked better AFTER I finished reading it.
This author just died and so I felt I had to read one of her books. This was interesting and I learned a lot about the
Antarctica explorations I ended up googling this history - Shackleton & Amundsen and Scott's trips.
A fictionalized account of the fatal Robert Scott expedition to the south pole in the early 1900's, with lots of backstabbing, second guessing, insubordination among the expedition party members.
Andy Weston
Feb 14, 2010 Andy Weston rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: arctic explorers (and those interested) everywhere
Well... I was just getting into it, and it finished! It just seems too short - as if only parts of the story are told. I guess that may be her point, but it left me a bit disappointed!
it gave an insight into the men's personalities..although they may not be entirely accurate...I now feel I know the reasons behind much of what happened on that fateful journey..
Interesting way into the story, with five men narrating a section. Bleak both in exterior and interior landscapes. Kept me awake in the night!
Janet Scott
Wonderful protrayal of personality and an interesting structure to bring to life the tragic Terra Nova polar expedition.
Beautifully written novella about Scott's flawed and ultimately doomed expedition to the South Pole.
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Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often set among the English working classes. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Award twice and was nominated for the Booker Prize five times. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Bainbridge among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
More about Beryl Bainbridge...
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“It wasn't all misery. On one of our halts we lay spreadeagled on the ice and stared up at a sky blazing with the glory of the most wonderful aurora I'd ever witnessed. I groaned beneath the splendour of those silken curtains, yellow, green, and orange, billowing at the window of the heavens.” 0 likes
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