To the Edges of the Earth
By Edward J. Larson. (Morrow, 329 pages, $29.99.)
Before Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole, before Sir Edmund Hillary summitted Mount Everest, and amid the continuing debate over who and how and when the North Pole was achieved, there were all of those who strove to become that victor. Edward J. Larson, a professor of history at Pepperdine University, has written a fascinating account of the failed efforts that never made the history books. To the quests for the North and South Pole, he adds the pole of altitude in the form of Mount Everest. Some names are familiar — Britain’s Ernest Shackleton looms large and came tantalizingly close to the South Pole. But who knew about Italy’s Duke of Abruzzi, revealed as a consummate mountaineer in Europe and then Nepal? The saga of Robert Peary, the U.S. explorer, and his attempts on the North Pole provide the clearest picture of how obsession and fame can drive a person. His claim to have succeeded remains contested, but who knows? These territories are beyond forbidding and Larson’s deep research hums along in compelling writing. To strive and to fail, then to see others ultimately succeed is a sorrow of ordinary life. Add in starvation, windchills and icy crevasses, and the burning quest to go where no one has gone before boggles the mind.
By Christine Mangan. (Ecco, 320 pages, $27.)
Christine Mangan’s debut novel, “Tangerine,” gets its title from the name given to expats living in Tangiers, Morocco.
In the mid-20th century in that steamy, fragrant city, Lucy makes an unannounced and unwelcome visit to her college roommate Alice, who is living there with her husband, John. There’s no pretext of a happy reunion. Something happened between these two women when they were roommates years earlier at Bennington College.
The narration alternates by chapter from Alice to Lucy, shifting viewpoints, adding texture without feeling repetitive. Ultimately, though, at least one of them will prove unreliable, and the guessing game is on from the start.
Mangan’s writing brings the reader to North Africa, a sweltering, sensual, confusing place for everyone, it seems.
While the sense of place in this novel is astonishing, the pacing of the narrative is extraordinary. The story feels like it should be languid but it’s captivating, swift and spooky.