From Publishers Weekly
In British author Dudman's stunning first adult novel, she reveals the poetry of science, interweaving a deep character study of German meteorologist Alfred Wegener (18801930) with scenes of pulse-pounding Arctic adventure. Today, Wegener's theory of continental drift, with some refinements, is accepted as scientific truth. During his time, however, Wegener was seen as an eccentric failure. Dudman allows Wegener to tell his own story in first-person present tense. This approach utterly immerses the reader in a sensual, detail-rich world. Dudman's prose is luminous, as in Wegener's reverie over the pages of a rare old book: "I too am adding parts of myself to the pages: oils are leaking from the skin of my hands and molecules of fat are smearing themselves invisibly on its surface." Dudman also displays an astute gift for characterization. Wegener's complex relationship with his brother Kurt and his love for his wife, Else, as measured against his lust for meteorological expeditions, is expertly, often heartbreakingly portrayed. As the story leads inexorably toward Wegener's demise in the frozen tundra of Greenland, Dudman's control over her material becomes even more masterful. The emotional yet understated final scenes are particularly fine. Above all, Dudman shows us one incontrovertible truth about her Wegener: he loved the world, in all of its riotous complexity. Some may say the same of Dudman after reading this wise, beautiful novel.
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In 1930, the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener disappeared on an expedition to Greenland; six months later, his body was found, perfectly preserved, beneath the ice. Dudman takes this as the starting point of her novel, a fictional autobiography in which Wegener embodies the scientist as man of action, launching hydrogen-balloon flights, spelunking down frozen crevasses, and racing across glaciers as the ice cracks. Between exploits, he investigates the origins of rain and the craters of the moon, and fends off attacks on his theory of continental drift—dismissed at the time as far-fetched but now widely accepted. As a narrator, Wegener is firmly rooted in his time, almost to a fault; occasionally, one wishes that the prose were less restrained and that the author had given her subject's life more of an arc. Still, Dudman artfully channels Wegener's voice—prim and fastidious, but filled with longing—so convincingly that her book reads like an artifact of Old World exploration.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker