Uploaded on Feb 14, 2012
Historical Novel Review, August 2012
Dual-time novels seem to be in vogue these days. Some feel contrived and out of balance, shifting mechanically between decades or centuries to no purpose. Dead Men is one of those that works -- all the more amazing because this is a debut novel for Richard Pierce.
In modern times, we meet Birdie Bowers, a young woman obsessed with her namesake's claim to fame as one of the five Arctic explorers who died on Captain Scott's famous 1912 expedition to the South Pole. She determines to retrace the ill-fated journey and finds in young drifter Adam a willing accomplice. This is a modern-day love story, on one hand, Adam falling for Birdie the moment he meets her in a London train station. But it's also a reimagining of the story, 100 years earlier, of the men who lost their lives in a gamble for fame. The result is touchingly tragic, from the very first scene.
Pierce's style waxes from spare prose, dialogue-heavy, to poetically reflective. In a conversation about art between Birdie and Adam, she says: "If you visualize something—doesn't matter if you're writing or painting—you're much more likely to be able to take your audience with you. If you just make something up that you don't really believe in, then it doesn't mean a thing." In Dead Men, the author most definitely takes the reader with him.
Washington Independent Review of Books, 18 June 2012
Who said literary works tend to be boring? This debut novel by Richard Pierce proves a poetically written narrative can also be riveting and engrossing.
This is not a lengthy novel and the author uses every word, sentence and verbal image to craft and layer his themes. This is a love story, a historical novel, a polar expedition and a ghostly tale. From an initial improbability, page after page draws the reader in. As the author's first effort at full-length fiction, it is a notable success. I highly recommend this novel.
Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2012
The story of Captain Scott gets under your skin, especially if you grow up with it as part of a personal folklore. The woman at the centre of Richard Pierce's novel Dead Men is named after Birdie Bowers, who died with Scott, so she is inevitably linked to the 'dead men' of the stark title.
It is the peculiar pull of the tragedy that the novel describes. The narrator, Adam, is a Scott 'beginner', leading us through a discovery of the story at the same time as he falls in love not only with Birdie but with the explorers' history too. The Antarctic seems to be one vast reliquary to Scott and his men, proving that 'the dead live on in their traces'. It becomes clear that this is a place inhabited by sirens, who lure the infatuated back again and again.
The novel opens with the discovery of Scott's body in 1912, and the 'real life' stories of the South Pole explorers weave in and out of the present-day romance. The modern Birdie is convinced that there is a mystery as to why Scott and his men lay in their tent for 10 days to wait out a blizzard. There is something intentionally infuriating about Birdie -- she is beautiful, creative, impulsive and fey but she has her own siren qualities.
Determined to re-discover the bodies of the dead men, she leads Adam, and us, back to the Antarctic itself. We are initiated into the lives of those who live and work there and Richard Pierce, in his debut novel, has given us some fascinating details -- the meaning of 'wannigan', the need to keep dehydration at bay, the description of Scott's hut where 'time has created its own scent' -- each are glimpses that show us what has become of the adventure Scott started.
The unfolding events suggest perhaps more mysticism than mystery, and the weaving in and out of fact and fiction asks you to make some shifts in belief -- but perhaps this mingling merely reflects the disorientation that can come with a sudden blurring of polar horizons and which is, after all, a natural feature of the place.
"An expertly-told story that captures the detail and spirit of Antarctic exploration, then and now. Not only a compelling novel, but an excellent tribute to Scott and his men."
Sir Ranulph Fiennes
"A debut that ranks with the best of Sarah Waters or Scarlett Thomas, Dead Men is a novel about obsession, life and death, and the redemptive power of love."
The Overlook Press
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