Explorers of the New Century
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Explorers of the New Century

by Magnus Mills

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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…  See more details below


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).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Dark and funny . . . 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 you've grabbed hold there's no letting go."-THE NEW YORKER

Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is a masterfully realized comic novel that is like something out of Gulliver's Travels by way of Franz Kafka and P.G. Wodehouse. Mills (Three To See the King), a former London bus driver, is known for his surrealist comedies, and this latest work may well be his best. Explorers is a kind of lighthearted, absurdist homage to intrepid European explorers like Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, who in 1911 engaged in a race to the South Pole. The two protagonists strive to reach a remote, inhospitable, unexplored destination. Each man leads a team through torturous terrain and impossible ordeals with the ultimate goal too preposterous to summarize here (it involves mules). Mills's touch is light and generous, and there is much that is inspiring about the characters, particularly their humility and courage. What's more, these men face hardship and misfortune while remaining steadfastly courteous and professional. A delight from start to finish, with superb dialog and an endearing cast of characters, this novel is enthusiastically recommended.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A courageous and perhaps futile quest is the immediate, though not exclusive, subject of the sly British minimalist's brain-squeezing fifth novel. As he did in such tricky parables as The Restraint of Beasts (1998) and Three to See the King (2001), Mills builds ominous resonance into a seemingly simple situation from which essential clarifying details are withheld. It's a race between two teams of explorers to reach, by different overland routes, a goal identified only as the Agreed Furthest Point. Both dialogue and incidental particulars suggest the late Victorian period, and the reader inevitably thinks of the historic contest to reach the North Pole waged by Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. For the leader of one expedition is Tostig, whose crewmen bear such Nordic-sounding names as Thegn, Snaebjorn and Thorsson, and are pragmatic, focused veteran explorers. Tostig's rival is the quintessential Brit Johns, a bit of a ditherer, whose crew are a rather more disorganized lot, prone to strategic errors and internal dissension. Hardships dog both expeditions, in a bleak landscape which-a gnomic "Theory of Transportation" (consulted by both leaders) implies-may be the consequence of an unspecified global catastrophe. Then, Mills introduces the "mules," which both parties are transporting, safely away from human contact. Yet the mules talk, reason, argue. Are they in fact humans? Are the supposed voyages of exploration actually passages traveled by slave ships (albeit by land)? (Tostig is a dictatorial, merciless martinet.) The absence of a clear resolution permits these and other interpretive possibilities to dance perversely in the reader's mind, as Mills calmlypulls strings, leading us-along with his essentially clueless characters- toward-just possibly?-nowhere. Which is, perhaps, where all schemes of conquest and exploitation ultimately arrive. 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.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Meet 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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