Seven Continents Challenge – Antarctica


Book two in my Seven Continents Challenge complete! Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica, by Jesse Blackadder, admittedly spent most of its time in Norway and at sea, but I loved the opportunity to explore the world of 1930’s Norwegian exploration (and whaling) through the eyes of three unusual Norwegian women caught up in the race to be the first woman to set foot on Antarctica.

One of the women, Ingrid Christensen (the wife of Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen) ended up with a whole coast of Antarctica named after her – but would you believe there’s hardly any information about her available online? And yes, I was trying to spoil the ending by finding out who the winner was — I failed, so I just had finish reading the book.

Another of the women, Lillimor Rachlew, was a Norwegian living in London high society who met Amelia Earhart right near the beginning, used female contraceptive and was desperate to be the first woman to do something (anything really)! Through her storyline I discovered that there was a wealthy American woman named Louise Arner Boyd who had already spend much time and money exploring the North Pole region by this period of history.

The final competitor was Mathilde Wegger, mother of two who had lost her husband a year before and was thoroughly, clinically depressed. She didn’t even want to be on the expedition, but her husbands parents had given her an ultimatum – go to Antarctica or go to an asylum. I think they hoped she’d die so they could keep the kids.

What I learned from this? Antarctic waters are cold, full of icebergs and incredibly dangerous. Women in the 1930’s were just as determined to explore and discover new things as their male counterparts, but it was significantly harder for them to do so. In fact, in 1937, over 1300 women applied to join the British Antarctic Expedition, but none were accepted. Also, whaling is horrible… and really sad… and, well, I guess you can’t really condemn whaling without condemning all forms of farming for meat on those ethical grounds, but there is also the totally unsustainable thing – which was a theme running underneath this story of exploration. Definitely makes you think.

And the book itself? Interesting, though it took me a while to finish. I didn’t like the main characters all that much, except perhaps Mathilde, who started out depressed and found her strength over the course of the voyage – she was kinda cool. I also kept wondering, with such strong characterization, if these women shared anything at all in common with their real life counterparts – I suppose it’s impossible to know.

I did appreciate that Blackadder ended the book with a discussion of her research and the facts as she could ascertain them (much different in places to her portrayal in the novel). I certainly feel I’ve earned an interesting glimpse into a moment in time that I can build on with further reading and research.

And now, onto book three of my challenge – Asia!