Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Night Without End (by Alistair MacLean) re-read

My rating: 9/10

Night Without End is a unique book. All the action takes place on the Greenland ice-sheet. It’s really interesting to read about things that you would never realise without being there. MacLean clearly knew what he was writing about, probably because during World War II MacLean took part in two arctic convoys and he must had learned a lot there.

The action is non-stop, but it’s a different kind of action comparing to Glen Cook novels and I am not writing about the difference between fantasy and non-fantasy novels. MacLean was a great writer and he had
a knack for giving short, but quite precise descriptions of places and people, maintaining at the same time high suspense. The descriptions are richer than in Glen Cook novels, but this book is still a page-turner.

Night Without End is written in first-person narration and MacLean is
a master of first-person narration. The narration also gives very strong feeling of extreme cold and of extreme exhaustion.

I don’t rate Night Without End as a perfect book because the amount of exhaustion suffered by most of the characters is almost unbelievable.
I wrote almost because I don’t know what it is like to have a choice between starving to death or struggling on. I suspect that the survival instinct can be really powerful, but to what extent?

Below there are some quotes to give you an idea about MacLean’s narration and about the plot. The first quote is the very first sentence of the book. The last quote comes from page 18 – only page 18 because anything more would be a spoiler. Enjoy! (Please, remember that
70 degrees of frost in Fahrenheit units means -38 Fahrenheit degrees, which is equal to -39 Celsius degrees.)

     It was Jackstraw who heard it first – it was always Jackstraw, whose hearing was even match for his phenomenal eyesight, who heard things first.

     ‘Aeroplane,’ he announced casually.
     ‘Aeroplane!’ I propped myself up on an elbow and stared at him. ‘Jackstraw, you’ve been hitting the methylated spirits again.’
     ‘Indeed, no, Dr Mason.’ The blue eyes, so incongruously at variance with swarthy face and broad Eskimo cheekbones, crinkled into a smile: coffee was Jackstraw’s strongest tipple and we both knew it.

     Joss listened.
     ‘Engines sound OK to me.’
     ‘And to me. But engine failure is only one of a dozen possible reasons.’
     ‘But why circle here?’
     ‘How the devil should I know? Probably because he can see our lights – the only lights, at a guess, in 50,000 square miles. And if he has to put down, which God forbid, he stands his only chance of survival if he puts down near some human habitation.’

     ‘No need. Seventy degrees of frost will freeze blood and seal a wound quicker than any bandage. But bring the morphia kit. Any water in these two buckets?’
     ‘Full. But more ice than water.’
     ‘Put them on the stove – and don’t forget to turn out the stove and both the lights before you leave.’ Incongruously enough, we who could survive in the Arctic only by virtue of fire, feared it above all else.

     ‘My God!’ I looked at him. ‘Maybe they’ve crashed already.’
     Again the shake of the head.
     ‘Why not?’ I demanded. ‘On a night like this you wouldn’t hear a thing if they crashed half a mile downwind.’
     ‘I’d have felt it, Dr Mason.’
     I nodded slowly, said nothing. He was right, of course. The frozen surface of this frozen land transmitted vibration like a tuning-fork.
Last July, seventy miles inland, we had distinctly felt the vibration of
the ice-cap as an iceberg had broken off from glacier in a hanging valley and toppled into the fjord below. Maybe the pilot had lost his bearings, maybe he was flying in ever-widening circles trying to pick up our lights again, but at least there was hope yet.

     Like a fool, I immediately leapt to my feet to try to get a bearing on the vanishing plane and was literally blown head over heels by the tremendous slipstream from the four great propellers, slid helplessly across the frozen crust of the snow and fetched up on my back almost twenty feet from where I had been standing. Cursing, bruised and not
a little dazed, I got to my feet again, started off in the direction where
I could hear the dogs barking and howling in a paroxysm of fear and excitement, then stopped abruptly and stood quite still. The engines had died, all four of them had died in an instant, and that could mean only one thing: the airliner was about to touch down.

(Saturday, 4 January 2014)

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