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Explorers of the New Century: A Novelby Magnus Mills
"What we have here is a black comedy in the tradition of Beckett (one of the authors Mills is often compared to). Mills is moral without moralizing; he's provocative without preaching. There have been some spoiler reviews of this novel and I am not about to join them here. However, I can say that, like Animal Farm and 1984 in their day, Explorers of the New Century is timely, a striking critique of today's culture and politics." Georgie Lewis, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
"When Magnus Mills gives the world a shake, you never know what might fall out of his pockets," proclaims the Los Angeles Times. In his terse new tour de force of a tale, Mills gives history a shake, and you'll never guess what the fallout is. Set at the dawn of the great age of exploration, the era of Shackleton and Perry and Scott, the book presents the adventures of two intrepid teams, both vying to reach the AFP, or Agreed Furthest Point-a worthy, even ennobling cause. The competition is friendly but conditions are extreme. To get through the arid, lifeless landscape, both teams must learn to make sacrifices, sacrifices that will change just about everything.
Mills burst on the literary scene a decade ago with The Restraint of Beasts, a novel Thomas Pynchon called a "demented, deadpan-comic wonder." This new work proves that he has become a master storyteller whose books are each "as welcome as a warm bus on a rainy day" (The Oregonian).
"In this acidly allegorical fancy, two unidentified nations at an unidentified time send coordinated expeditions into an uninhabited place of extreme weather — 'the Agreed Furthest Point from Civilization.' After arrival at camp, and a minor mishap that injures a mule (which has to be destroyed), the British-seeming team sets out, taking a difficult route over scree-strewn hillocks; the Scandinavian-seeming team, a few days ahead, progresses up a dry river bed. Given the polar explorer motif, questions begin to nag. Why does no one mention the poles? Where is the ice? Where are the sled dogs, and why are both expeditions encumbered with mule trains? Answers present themselves as we become familiar, through indirect hints, with the manner in which the mules have become a burden for both societies. One day, as disaster strikes the British party, a crew member and several mules drown — and one of the mules speaks. Mills (The Restraint of Beasts) expertly wields a narrow-bandwidth prose that hides distortions of reality in its very matter-of-factness. The effect is similar to the way old painters used to put anamorphic skulls in the foreground of their paintings: when we finally understand what we are seeing, it creates a backward-crashing estrangement from any sense of normalcy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Alternative history, science fantasy, allegory, fable: there are moments when you think Explorers of the New Century could be any of these. It's all of them and yet none, enormous fun and deceptively profound." Nicholas Royle, The Independent, U.K.
"Mills writes like a raven: keen, mischievous, plain and lofty." Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times
"Although the book remains teasingly vague, a political subtext surfaces....But while the novel undoubtedly harbours darker elements, its most successful mode is deadpan humour." David Grylls, Sunday Times
"But all is not what it seems. What begins as a mildly diverting satire on Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole gradually turns into a nightmarish broadside against the structures of accepted morality." James Flint, The Telegraph
"The story never fully coheres or satisfies. But it does suggest that, despite Mills's evident debts to Kafka and Beckett, he's still a provocative, elusive original." Kirkus Reviews
"A signature feature of [Mills's] narratives is a penchant for black comedy veiled in disarmingly minimalist prose. His latest novel takes that to its deadpan limits....A slyly original critique of racism and the pretensions behind civilization's zeal for moral uplift." Booklist
"Mills' unpredictable sleight of hand produces the brief but perplexing Explorers of the New Century, leaving some readers to scratch their heads while others may wag their fingers." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Set in what feels like the Great Age of Exploration—the era of Shackleton, Perry, and Amundsen—EXPLORERS OF THE NEW CENTURY tells the story of two teams racing across a nameless frozen expanse, each seeking to be the first to reach the AFP, or Agreed Furthest Point (which might as well stand for the South Pole, or the top of Everest, or deepest cave). The AFP is worth reaching because it has been acknowledged as there. Accompanied by their suffering mules and driven by their determination to push themselves to the limits and beyond, each team proves its mettle. But the cost is high--each step strains their limited resources, each calculation becomes a matter of life and death. Magnus Mills, one of the great fabulists in the English language--a cross between Hemingway and Kafka--has taken the exploration story and given it a haunting twist. The great drama doesn't involve reaching the AFP, but in what we learn about the explorers along the way.
Daily we stumble over shale and flint, toiling onwards in the vague belief that at some distant time and place well see the sun rise again; and that spreading before us will be vast, hospitable ranges where the mules may finally be turned loose.”
At the dawn of a great age of exploration—closely resembling that of Shackleton and Perry and Scott—two teams of explorers set off through an arid, lifeless landscape. Both are vying to reach the Agreed Furthest Point, or AFP, first: One team takes the western route across seemingly endless rocky scree; the other negotiates a dry riverbed. And both rely heavily on their mules for survival. The burden of that dependency bears a price.
Magnus Millss new novel proves he has no equal in his mastery of the dark-comic fable. In prose whose genius lies in its very matter-of-factness, ominousness grows with every step the intrepid explorers take. Every decision feels fateful; every mistake potentially fatal. Yet the white-knuckle drama of the race to reach the AFP pales in comparison to the revelation Mills delivers in this riveting tour de force, a revelation that changes just about everything.
Praise for The Restraint of Beasts
A witty, intricate fable about a working-class hell constructed by its own inhabitants.”—The New York Times
The Restraint of Beasts, designed both to amuse and to alarm, resembles an electrified fence: once youve grabbed hold theres no letting go.”—The New Yorker
Magnus Mills is the author of four previous novels, including Three to See the King and The Restraint of Beasts, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award in England. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Mills lives in London.
About the Author
Magnus Mills worked as a full-time bus driver in London until the success of The Restraint of Beasts, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. The author of a collection of short stories and five novels, all of which have been published in fifteen languages, he lives in London.
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