Deb Gardner has been coming to the Antarctic for years to study penguins, and it’s the only place she feels at home. It’s where she met the love of her life, Keller Sullivan, and where she feels fulfilled. The travel season for the Antarctic has recently begun, and Deb is a naturalist aboard a small tourist expedition ship. She discovers that Keller is a naturalist aboard a giant cruise liner, too large and unwieldy in the icy Antarctic waters, and when that ship encounters distress, Deb knows this season will be unlike any other.
I’m going to try very hard to talk about why I loved My Last Continent. I already know I’m going to fail; the reason is that I have never been able to put into words why I love the Antarctic. It feels like it’s a part of me. When I was there last year, it felt as though I was reunited with a piece of my soul I never knew I’d been missing. I know what it is to be homesick for a place I’ve never been; now I am homesick for a place I probably will never go again. And the reason I loved this book so much is that it put all these difficult unexplainable feelings into words. Midge Raymond, through Deb Gardner, was able to write about these feelings I can barely make sense of, much less explain.
But that is why I loved My Last Continent. That doesn’t tell you why you should read this book, though trust me, I think you should. This isn’t your typical travelogue, an explorer’s narrative of the white continent. This is beautiful, lyrical, suspenseful literary fiction. You can get lost in Raymond’s words, her incredibly vivid descriptions. She writes about climate change without making the reader feel like she has an agenda (though, of course, she does. Anyone in love with the Antarctic has an agenda about climate change). She melds incredibly vivid descriptions with science, a love story, and a tale of suspense. I don’t know how she managed to spin such a complicated, intricate, yet beautiful and compulsively readable tale, but here it is.
My Last Continent jumps back and forth through time; Deb is the central character and narrator, and we see her past, present, and future with both the Antarctic and with Keller. Though it might be easy to classify this novel as a love story between Deb and Keller, it is much more complicated than that. This is the love story of Deb’s torrid affair with the Antarctic, a place that takes and takes and takes until you think you have nothing left to give. It is merciless and cruel, but it also provides the briefest moments of clarity and wonder that make it entirely worth it. It’s incredibly well done; over the years, the reader gets to know Deb and understand her relationship with this mysterious place; underlying all of this, though, is the tension of what exactly is going to happen with Deb and Keller and the shipwreck. Raymond lays the pieces of her story masterfully; her words are a precision instrument, taking the reader exactly where she wants them to go. It is excellent.
I could honestly go on for days about why I loved this novel so much, but trust me: I’ll never truly be able to put it into words. My Last Continent spoke to me on a fundamental level. But even if you don’t have that connection to the Antarctic, even if you know nothing about it, this novel is worth a read. It will introduce you to the white continent, give you some sense of how a minority of people feel about it, all while providing a gripping and thought-provoking read.