Lean Fall Stand: Eloquent mapping of geographer’s disorientation

Jon McGregor explores Antarctic and Cambridge landscapes of stroke-hit researcher

Jon McGregor: has a reputation for being a writer’s writer, and frequently stuns with how eloquent he can make ineloquence. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty

Jon McGregor: has a reputation for being a writer’s writer, and frequently stuns with how eloquent he can make ineloquence. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty

In his account of reaching the South Pole, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen called Antarctica “the boundless plain” and “an endless, uniform surface . . . that was lost in the horizon”. The combined monotony and vastness played tricks on his team. “The surface remained as before – flat and even. We ourselves had a feeling that we were ascending, but, as the future will show, this was only imagination.”

In Jon McGregor’s latest novel, Luke Adebayo, a postdoctoral geographer updating Antarctic maps, feels similarly disoriented: “Actually featureless didn’t quite describe it; there were mountains, and ridges, and slopes of scree, and glaciers moving down into inlets and sounds. But without trees, or rivers, or buildings, it was difficult to arrange what he was seeing into any kind of perspective. There was no obvious difference between one mile and fifty.”

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