I had planned to read something else as my first book for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge but when the mercury headed beyond 40ºC locally I felt the need to virtually head somewhere nice and chilly. Set amidst the icy crevasses and snowy blizzards of Antarctica, THIRST fit the bill nicely.
As I discovered when participating in the global reading challenge there is a certain ‘sameness’ to the relatively small number of fictional tales in this setting: they are almost all action-packed thrillers with clearly defined bad guys trying to do something awful while good guys try to stop them (and cling on to their own lives in the process). Broadly THIRST, set in the near future, does conform to the tropes but it is a highly entertaining addition to this tiny sub sub-genre of novels.
In this instance the bad guys are led by wealthy Chinese businessman Robert Zhao Sheng who is hell-bent on extracting Antarctica’s fresh water, ostensibly to save his over-populated country from the very real threat of running dry really to prove to his abusive tyrant of a father that he is not the useless nothing dear old dad believes him to be. Larkin’s done a nice job drawing this character who is entirely unlikeable but for whom I couldn’t help but feel a shred of sympathy as I pondered how much damage has been wrought upon the world because of astonishingly shitty parenting.
Central among the good guys is Luke Searle a half-Australian, half-French glaciologist working at a fictional Australian station. He and a small group of researchers are gearing up for the long Antarctic winter…seven months during which it will be impossible to leave or have new people arrive as ships cannot make it through the ice…when the ice harvesting plans require putting Hope Station, and its inhabitants, out of action. During the attack several of Luke’s colleagues are killed and the rest must go on the run: an activity which has all the danger you might imagine of such inhospitable terrain. Mayhem ensues.
This is Larkin’s second novel and, for me at least, a better read than her first in which I struggled to believe the characters’ behaviour and motivations. Even in thrillers, where the action-packed plots require a willingness to suspend disbelief at the outset, a reader needs to be able believe that the characters would do and say the things they are doing and saying in the context of the world created for them. We also need to be provided with enough details about their personalities to care whether the good guys triumph or not. Happily that was the case with THIRST. I certainly wanted the despicable Mr Zhao Sheng to come to a grizzly end and was mentally cheering on Luke, his station leader Maddie and the Russian tour guide they picked up in their escape. And I have to say the story was a ripper of a yarn, keeping me happily absorbed in its chilly action while the mercury soared.
It’s clear from the content (and an afterword) that Larkin has done a lot of research for this book but it’s incorporated pretty well into the story without sound too lecturish. I particularly liked the way she included some titbits about the history of Antarctic exploration, a subject I have become fascinated with thanks to our state museum’s excellent Australian Polar Collection and associated exhibits. The environmental themes she explores are also backed up well and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine some version of this future for our poor, mishandled planet. All in all THIRST is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that should give you a little pause for thought about a world in which water is fought over in the way oil is today.
Publisher: Pier 9 
Length: 501 pages (actually this doesn’t sound right, it was the first book I’ve read via iBooks and unlike other eBook platforms the pagination appears to not be static so it changes with font size and orientation of the screen – the paperback is 332 pages for more of a guide)
Format: eBook (via iBooks)
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.