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Book Club: Everland

Book Club: Everland

Our Waterstones Book Club choice this week is Everland, Rebecca Hunt's second novel, described by The Guardian as 'Nothing short of stunning.' Read the opening pages here.

Posted on 15th March 2015 by Rebecca Hunt

April 1913.

1

Running on the beach. Chaotic noises, busy. A call; a male voice shouting in the wind. The sound of something happening in the surf.

It was a dream perhaps, or perhaps a memory leaching out. Such a sweet dream though. ‘Ship-O! . . . Napps . . . Are you there? Are you all well?’

A glimmer of consciousness brought him back into the over- turned dinghy. He remembered Everland as a colour, an immense blackness, where the cycle of time had dilated to a single endless night. But to permit even a fraction of wakefulness was to suffer. The pain was monstrous. Think of God, if at all.

He heard digging. Snow was being shovelled away from the dinghy’s buried sides.

‘We have him! We have one of them!’

A burst of activity surrounded him as men crawled into the dinghy. His arms were clenched around his head, covering his face, and they talked in low whispers, afraid to touch him.

Someone said tentatively, ‘Is he alive?’

‘I don’t know, I can’t tell. Where’s the doctor? Hurry, get Addison.’ Boots pelted off across the shingle.

‘Napps? . . . Millet-Bass? . . .’ Men were searching the beach and yells echoed from every direction. ‘Any sign?’ they called to each other.

Addison arrived and knelt close. ‘Can you hear me?’ he said, lean- ing down to talk to Dinners directly. ‘We’re taking you back to the ship. Can you hear me, Dinners?’

Then he asked for assistance from those nearby. ‘Be very careful, on my instruction. Very, very careful, this will hurt him. So easy does it. All hands ready?’

In agony, Dinners moaned and ground his teeth as they lifted him on to a stretcher. He was carried to the shoreline and passed over to men on a boat. Oars drove against the ice-crusted waves.

‘It’s all right, we’re here and we’ve found you now,’ Addison said when Dinners looked up at him and started to cry.

The gratitude was overpowering. Dinners cried for the miracle of being found. He cried for not being driven out of his collapsing body and made to die alone in the cold. And he cried for Napps and Millet-Bass; for  the heartbreak and the pity of  what  had come before.

2

Swaying from a hook on the ceiling, the lantern’s  orange light slowly passed from one side of the cabin to the other. It illuminated the desk, then the sink, then Dinners’s bulk beneath the covers, then Dinners’s greenish deadened ear. Sitting beside the bed, Addison was thinking of Napps and Millet-Bass, most keenly of Napps. He tried to believe in a divine love which would choose to shield and save.

They were in the Captain’s room, as Lawrence himself had in- sisted before setting off to Everland again with the rescue party. It was the most luxurious cabin on the ship. The bed was built in at one end, the walls decorated with a selection of pictures. A couple of shelves housed Lawrence’s slight personal library and his records of dance-hall music and opera. Pinned above the desk was a photo- graph of Lawrence shaking hands with a man Addison recognized as Joseph Evelyn. It was mid-afternoon and a number of the crew were finishing lunch in the Officers’ Mess.

Unlike the Mess Deck, that cramped dump of a room for sailors, the Officers’ Mess had the air of a gentlemen’s club. It was spacious and glossily wood-panelled, with an impressive fireplace. Officers didn’t pack together on unpadded benches as the sailors did; they weren’t jammed around a table which was little more than some planks nailed to a rough frame. The officers sat at a beautifully designed and polished table. Their comfortable chairs were secured to the floor with a metal peg, and could be swivelled in a full circle, allowing the sitter to turn himself either away or towards any of his companions. Although the sailors slept like animals in a clutter of bunks and hammocks, the walls of the Officers’ Mess were lined with monogrammed doors which opened into private quarters. Because Lawrence had an amused, slightly bohemian attitude to class division, some men who weren’t officers had been granted access to this civilized paradise. These lucky individuals were per- haps favourites of the Captain, or friends of other officers, or were neither but had a talent for blagging.

The mood was pensive. No one spoke much. The majority of the crew were still ashore searching for Napps and Millet-Bass, and those left on board were grimly aware of the probable outcome. Dr Addison was an exceptional physician and Dinners might be able to relay the events if he could be coaxed into health. But the man sent to take Addison some food had returned with a heavy expression, shaking his head: no change in his condition. No, it didn’t  look good.

‘Shall I say what we’re all thinking?’ said Coppers. He looked around the room. ‘Or should we continue to pretend that we’re surprised the decision to send Dinners to Everland hasn’t worked out. As if it ever made sense to any of us. Send someone with the resilience of a new-born lamb on that kind of expedition, and you expect, what? That it’s going to be a success?’

Coppers never knew when to keep his mouth  shut. Everyone listening averted their eyes, embarrassed by his tactlessness. This didn’t mean they disagreed with him.

A festering stench had warned them of Dinners’s state. They’d placed him on Lawrence’s bed and stripped off his outer garments, cutting away the dog-fur gloves and finnesko boots. Someone had gagged and then whispered, smells of rotting meat. Addison had cau- tioned the man’s lack of discretion with a sharp glance, and the other men kept quiet when they saw what lay inside Dinners’s mitts and boots. All toes and fingers were black and burnt-looking relics. Suppurating wounds showed where gangrene was poisoning living tissue.

bunks and hammocks, the walls of the Officers’ Mess were lined with monogrammed doors which opened into private quarters. Because Lawrence had an amused, slightly bohemian attitude to class division, some men who weren’t officers had been granted access to this civilized paradise. These lucky individuals were per- haps favourites of the Captain, or friends of other officers, or were neither but had a talent for blagging.

The mood was pensive. No one spoke much. The majority of the crew were still ashore searching for Napps and Millet-Bass, and those left on board were grimly aware of the probable outcome. Dr Addison was an exceptional physician and Dinners might be able to relay the events if he could be coaxed into health. But the man sent to take Addison some food had returned with a heavy expression, shaking his head: no change in his condition. No, it didn’t  look good.

‘Shall I say what we’re all thinking?’ said Coppers. He looked around the room. ‘Or should we continue to pretend that we’re surprised the decision to send Dinners to Everland hasn’t worked out. As if it ever made sense to any of us. Send someone with the resilience of a new-born lamb on that kind of expedition, and you expect, what? That it’s going to be a success?’

Coppers never knew when to keep his mouth  shut. Everyone listening averted their eyes, embarrassed by his tactlessness. This didn’t mean they disagreed with him.

A festering stench had warned them of Dinners’s state. They’d placed him on Lawrence’s bed and stripped off his outer garments, cutting away the dog-fur gloves and finnesko boots. Someone had gagged and then whispered, smells of rotting meat. Addison had cau- tioned the man’s lack of discretion with a sharp glance, and the other men kept quiet when they saw what lay inside Dinners’s mitts and boots. All toes and fingers were black and burnt-looking relics. Suppurating wounds showed where gangrene was poisoning living tissue.

bunks and hammocks, the walls of the Officers’ Mess were lined with monogrammed doors which opened into private quarters. Because Lawrence had an amused, slightly bohemian attitude to class division, some men who weren’t officers had been granted access to this civilized paradise. These lucky individuals were per- haps favourites of the Captain, or friends of other officers, or were neither but had a talent for blagging.

The mood was pensive. No one spoke much. The majority of the crew were still ashore searching for Napps and Millet-Bass, and those left on board were grimly aware of the probable outcome. Dr Addison was an exceptional physician and Dinners might be able to relay the events if he could be coaxed into health. But the man sent to take Addison some food had returned with a heavy expression, shaking his head: no change in his condition. No, it didn’t  look good.

‘Shall I say what we’re all thinking?’ said Coppers. He looked around the room. ‘Or should we continue to pretend that we’re surprised the decision to send Dinners to Everland hasn’t worked out. As if it ever made sense to any of us. Send someone with the resilience of a new-born lamb on that kind of expedition, and you expect, what? That it’s going to be a success?’

Coppers never knew when to keep his mouth  shut. Everyone listening averted their eyes, embarrassed by his tactlessness. This didn’t mean they disagreed with him.

A festering stench had warned them of Dinners’s state. They’d placed him on Lawrence’s bed and stripped off his outer garments, cutting away the dog-fur gloves and finnesko boots. Someone had gagged and then whispered, smells of rotting meat. Addison had cau- tioned the man’s lack of discretion with a sharp glance, and the other men kept quiet when they saw what lay inside Dinners’s mitts and boots. All toes and fingers were black and burnt-looking relics. Suppurating wounds showed where gangrene was poisoning living tissue bunks and hammocks, the walls of the Officers’ Mess were lined with monogrammed doors which opened into private quarters. Because Lawrence had an amused, slightly bohemian attitude to class division, some men who weren’t officers had been granted access to this civilized paradise. These lucky individuals were per- haps favourites of the Captain, or friends of other officers, or were neither but had a talent for blagging.

The mood was pensive. No one spoke much. The majority of the crew were still ashore searching for Napps and Millet-Bass, and those left on board were grimly aware of the probable outcome. Dr Addison was an exceptional physician and Dinners might be able to relay the events if he could be coaxed into health. But the man sent to take Addison some food had returned with a heavy expression, shaking his head: no change in his condition. No, it didn’t  look good.

‘Shall I say what we’re all thinking?’ said Coppers. He looked around the room. ‘Or should we continue to pretend that we’re surprised the decision to send Dinners to Everland hasn’t worked out. As if it ever made sense to any of us. Send someone with the resilience of a new-born lamb on that kind of expedition, and you expect, what? That it’s going to be a success?’

Coppers never knew when to keep his mouth  shut. Everyone listening averted their eyes, embarrassed by his tactlessness. This didn’t mean they disagreed with him.

A festering stench had warned them of Dinners’s state. They’d placed him on Lawrence’s bed and stripped off his outer garments, cutting away the dog-fur gloves and finnesko boots. Someone had gagged and then whispered, smells of rotting meat. Addison had cau- tioned the man’s lack of discretion with a sharp glance, and the other men kept quiet when they saw what lay inside Dinners’s mitts and boots. All toes and fingers were black and burnt-looking relics. Suppurating wounds showed where gangrene was poisoning living tissue.

3

The Antarctic base Aegeus was currently home to an international community of one hundred and fifty people. It was a stark indus- trial hamlet of featureless buildings with rough roads bulldozed into the snow. Metal and scrap were piled next to sealed storage drums, lengths of pipe, and stacked wooden pallets bound with plastic cable. Forklifts and heavy-duty vehicles stood against corru- gated iron barns and yellow shipping containers. Chains with links wide enough to push a fist through lay coiled on chipboard slats. Above the garage doorway was a pair of antlers nailed in the posi- tion of drawn cutlasses. Screwed to a wooden post at the end of the runway was a walrus skull wearing a Yankees baseball cap that had been there for as long as anyone who’d ever been to Aegeus could remember.  The buildings were either a dirty white or pale silo green, and lined with rows of triple-glazed windows.

The base’s interior aesthetic was comfortably, tastelessly neutral. Long corridors in the facilities block led to rooms of blinking machines and small offices with views of Portakabins or the accommodation blocks. A constant ambient temperature allowed for slouching around in jeans and T-shirts, trainers squeaking on the polished linoleum floors. There  were  ergonomic  beech-effect desks, pastel apricot hospital-coloured walls and computer screensavers showing dolphins or twirling cosmos graphics. Lucky little toys and dog-eared photo- graphs and the occasional Day Planner with cheesy life-affirming quotes decorated the windowsills. Pashminas and college sweatshirts hung over the backs of padded swivel chairs. A pink photocopied poster on the storeroom door advertised an aerobics class.

With its lights out and curtains taped shut against the brilliant evening sunshine, the common room was now dark apart from the whirring glow of a projector screen. Flirtatious or snappish tussles over sofa space were already happening, as they always did, no mat- ter how many extra chairs were stolen from the canteen. People hissed apologies as they picked their way through the crowd towards the honesty bar in the corner for bottles of beer. A massively antici- pated weekly event at Aegeus was about to begin. Tonight was film night.

The MGM lion’s  head appeared to cheers from the audience. Shadow hands appeared on screen to pat the lion or make other roaring animal heads. Some genius flipped up two shadow fingers. As a tribute to Brix, Jess and Decker, the film chosen obviously had to be the old sixties classic Everland, which was based on Captain Lawrence’s famous book about the Kismet expedition. It was the centenary of that Everland voyage, and a prestigious fieldwork trip had been organized. Tomorrow, Decker, Jess and Brix would begin a comprehensive study of the island, becoming the first party in a hundred years to relocate there for two continuous months. Pretty much everyone at Aegeus, regardless of qualification, had com- peted to be one of those selected.

‘Speech, speech.’ Everyone took up the call, shoes drumming on the carpet.

Decker was shoved to his feet by the people on the sofa beside him. The stamping increased in volume. ‘Yes, all right, take it easy. Bunch of heathens.’

Decker took a swig of beer. ‘You may or may not know this is my last expedition,’ he said to howls of dissent. ‘Yeah, yeah, you love me.’ He let affectionate heckling die out. ‘But twenty years in the field is enough for anyone. So, uh. I want to say how much of an honour it’s been to work with you all. I can’t imagine a more fulfill- ing, more rewarding, more worthwhile way of –’ Decker stopped, perhaps a little emotional. ‘Raise your glasses. Here’s to Everland, here’s to Aegeus, here’s to you lot, and here’s to the next twenty years. Roll the film.’

Thunderous applause. Decker sat down, high-fived by everyone in reach.

The title sequence was of mountainous vistas, accompanied by the celebrated film score. There wasn’t  a person watching who didn’t know the tune, and the common room erupted into song. Then the volume dropped to a tone of menace. The galloping hero- ism of the brass section and kettle drums suddenly gave way to Everland’s oboe solo, which perfectly embodied vengeful justice and comeuppance. The audience moved their arms in witchy, belly- dancing ways, laughing at each other.

Jess’s laugh was the loudest. She was sitting beside the Dutch biologist Andre. They had a close, cliquey friendship, and were even more cliquish than usual this evening. Andre was an exceptional biologist, Jess was an exceptional field assistant, and they’d both been confident about being chosen for the Everland team. They’d have put money on it. Yet Andre hadn’t been selected.

‘It’s a conspiracy,’ Jess muttered to Andre. ‘Just unbelievable.’ Andre was looking at Kimiko, a Japanese meteorologist who was

sitting with the rest of the meteorology crew. ‘Right? Conspiracy,’

he said when Jess elbowed him.

Dinners was portrayed by an androgynously beautiful man, strangely clean-shaven, who had an almost feminine physique com- pared to the muscular and enormous Millet-Bass. The hard-faced actor playing Napps was incredible at emotionally turbulent stares. He glared at the horizon during the opening scene until Millet-Bass, a fabulous caveman, walked into shot chewing his pipe.

‘An unknown, uncharted island, and you the first to explore there,’ handsome Captain Lawrence said as the scene cut to the three men boarding their notorious dinghy, the Joseph Evelyn. Surrounded by smiling crew, Lawrence leant over the Kismet’s lee rail in his white Aran jumper and black braces. ‘What will you call it, Napps?’

‘Captain!’ Napps clasped his chest. ‘In honour of Joseph Evelyn, friend and generous sponsor of this expedition, in whose boat we now proudly venture forth, I name it Everland.’

Cheers came from the Kismet men as the dinghy rowed away to jaunty seafaring music.

‘Boo!’ The common-room audience were offended by any affec- tion or respect given to that bastard Napps. They knew what to expect and hated him as the film showed a flashback of the ship’s cat getting killed on Christmas Day, a crime Napps lied about to Smith, the young sailor. Napps treated him with contempt and then false brotherliness the moment Coppers came into the room. The death of Smith’s pet wasn’t an accident, and the audience yelled in disgust when another flashback revealed Napps hefting his club down on a screaming baby seal despite the Captain’s  explicit instructions to harm no pups. The audience were outraged by Napps’s brutality to an officer named McValley, who nearly died of scurvy. I wish he had died, Napps sneered.

Now no one in the common room was joking around any more. Tissues were being dug from pockets. It didn’t matter that this film had been shown every Boxing Day for years and they’d all seen it a thousand times. The following scenes were impossible to watch without crying.

The camera observed Napps’s expression transform into Acad- emy Award-winning iciness as Millet-Bass relayed the news about Dinners’s worsening condition.

‘There is nothing I wouldn’t do to return,’ Napps muttered to himself. ‘Nothing I can’t live with if it gets me home.’

At approximately five square miles, Everland could be walked all the way around in a few hours. Apart from its history, it wasn’t a particularly notable place in terms of scientific research, and before the centenary, it had been considered too small to justify the large- scale expenditure  of  a  fieldwork trip.  Aerial images showed  a pear-shaped island with a cove resembling a bite mark cut into the northern end. Everland’s interior was mostly impassable slate-like terrain that sloped up into the seven-hundred-foot-high peak of Antarctica’s smallest volcano, which was live, but had no record of ever erupting. The island had two colonies, an Adélie penguin col- ony in a bay at the southern  end, and a fur seal colony at the northern cove where the Joseph Evelyn was preserved in situ by the Antarctic Heritage Trust as a site of cultural importance. The Trust was responsible for conserving the legacy of Antarctic exploration for the international community. It cared for huts built by Captain Scott and Shackleton, as well as the Kismet’s hut at Cape Athena, which was a larger, more accessible territory seventy miles north of Everland. Most Aegeus expeditions were based at the Cape, and some fieldwork groups had sailed across, staying on Everland for a day or two. They had brought back photographs of themselves doing thumbs-up poses next to the Joseph Evelyn, or crouched beside Adélies, and told anecdotes about Everland being a creepy place. Undercutting these tales was an unbearable smugness that they’d got to visit.

‘Hard pounding this, gentlemen,’ cried Dinners. ‘Let’s see who will pound longest.’

Everyone knew Napps’s next line. A number of thespians in the audience hammed along, raising their hands to a pitiless universe.

‘How time tricks us . . .’

‘Tricks us!’ they echoed.

‘. . . into seeing who we really are,’ Napps said in his single moment of self-reflection. ‘And what choices we make.’

Muffled sobs filled the common room. People tried to cry dis- creetly while, on screen, two figures trudged away into the dark.

Left abandoned under the Joseph Evelyn, there was a long, linger- ing shot of Dinners’s wide eyes, and then the legendary narration began. Richard Burton’s  masterful voice suddenly boomed from the sky to preach about the frailties of men, sieving the just from the unjust in a blistering monologue.

Braum cursed in Danish, banging his chair. ‘Come on, Addison. Hurry . . .’

The camera retreated from the dinghy as Dinners, his arms bent to shield his poor head against the cold, lay alone in the blackness.

And finally there was the sound of voices shouting: ‘Ship-O! . . .

Napps . . . Are you there? Are you all well?’

The audience went crazy, whooping as sailors ran for the sledge and Addison said, ‘Dinners, it’s all right, we’re here and we’ve found you now.’

Brix sensed Decker was looking at her from across the room, and shot him a jittery smile.

He grinned at her and mouthed, ‘You’re going to be fine.’

Related books

Everland (Paperback)

Everland (Paperback)

Rebecca Hunt




5 Reviews

1913: Dinners, Millet-Bass, and Napps - three men bound not by friendship, but by an intense dependence founded on survival - will be immortalised by their decision to volunteer to scout out a series of uncharted and unknown islands in the Antarctic, a big, indifferent kingdom.

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