This unforgettable debut, set against the dramatic Antarctic landscape, is “refreshingly different, vivid and immediate. Midge Raymond has an extraordinary gift for description that puts the reader bang in the middle of its dangerous and endangered world” (M.L. Stedman, New York Times bestselling author of The Light Between Oceans).
It is only among the glacial mountains, cleaving icebergs, and frigid waters of Antarctica that Deb Gardener and Keller Sullivan feel at home. For a few blissful weeks each year they study the habits of Emperor and Adelie penguins and find solace in their work and in one another. But Antarctica, like their fleeting romance, is a fragile place, imperiled by the world to the north.
Each year, Deb and Keller play tour guide to the passengers on the small expedition ship that ferries them to their research station. But this year, when Keller fails to appear on board, Deb begins to reconsider their complicated past and the uncertainty of any future they might share. Then, shortly into the journey, Deb’s ship receives an emergency signal from The Australis, a cruise liner that has hit desperate trouble in the ice-choked waters of the Southern Ocean. Soon Deb’s role will change from researcher to rescuer; among the crew of that sinking ship, Deb learns, is Keller.
As Deb and Keller’s troubled histories collide in this “original and entirely authentic love story” (Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project), Midge Raymond takes us on an unforgettable voyage deep into the wonders of the Antarctic and the mysteries of the human heart. My Last Continent is “a sensitive exploration of how the smallest action can ripple through an ecosystem—seemingly impenetrable, but as fragile as the human heart” (The Minneapolis Star-Tribune). “Atmospheric and adventurous...The story and vivid writing will keep readers glued to the pages” (Library Journal).
This reading group guide for My Last Continent includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this “original and entirely authentic love story” (Graeme Simsion, author of The Rose Project), debut novelist Midge Raymond constructs the tenuous and complex relationship between two researchers, Deb Gardner and Keller Sullivan, as set against the imperiled Antarctic landscape.
For a few weeks each year, Deb and Keller escape their personal burdens and disappointments to be with each other, serving as expedition ship tour guides while they conduct research on the habits of the emperor and Adélie penguins that populate Antarctica. However, at the start of the latest season, Deb discovers that not only is Keller not a member of the expedition ship’s staff, he is on a nearby cruise liner that that has hit troubled water and is sinking fast.
Interweaving the genesis of Deb and Keller’s relationship with its imperiled present, My Last Continent is a powerful voyage into love, loss, and the mysteries of the human heart.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the first few pages of My Last Continent, Deb offers the following analysis of why the Australis and Air New Zealand Flight 901 both crashed in Antarctica: “Each was felled by what its crew knew existed but was unable to see, or chose not to see” (page 1). Do you think this is a self-aware comment on Deb’s personal history or on Keller’s final moments? Why do we feel the need to castigate others when analyzing tragedies in hindsight?
2. Consider your first impression of Deb and Keller’s relationship coupled with Deb’s belief that “we have fallen in love with each other as much as with Antarctica, and we have yet to separate ourselves, and what we are, from this place” (page 14). How did your opinion of their relationship change as you learned more about their history? Do you think Deb’s assessment rings true throughout their relationship?
3. One of the major thematic points of Keller’s story line is the concept of being changed by a journey. What were Keller’s touchstones in his evolution from grief-stricken lawyer to Antarctic researcher? Do you think it is possible point to specific moments in his journey, or was it more of a gradual development? What role, if any, did Deb have in all of this?
4. According to Keller, whereas previously he lived in blissful ignorance and was then caught unaware, in Antarctica “you know the risks—the hazards are tangible.” (page 72). Was Keller truly always aware of the risks in Antarctica? Which way of living do you prefer?
5. Discuss the paradox of Antarctica as Midge Raymond presents it: a place that is attractive to tour groups due to its unique climate and wildlife, yet is faced with a constantly changing landscape due in part to those same tourists. What do you make of the give-and-take nature of environments like Antarctica that are both preserved and harmed by tourism?
6. Kate and Richard are presented as foils and mirrors for Deb and Keller. What similarities do you find between the two couples? Did you like one more than the other? Compare how the two couples relate to each other and their difficult relationships with the truth.
7. Icebergs and what is hidden are a dominant theme in the book. Discuss how the chronological structure and the way previously unknown facts and events were presented influenced your understanding of the characters and their motivation.
8. According to Deb, in Adélie penguin colonies, mothers focus on the chick most likely to continue the next generation (page 162), a characterization she sees reflected in her own family dynamics. Would you consider Deb a reliable narrator in this instance? What sort of events may have shaded her understanding of her relationship with her mother?
9. Deb says to Kate, “It seems like there are two kinds of people who come to Antarctica. Those who have run out of places to go, and those who have run out of places to hide” (page 179). Do you think Deb really believes this? In which camp would you place Deb and Keller? Why do you think Deb doesn’t talk to Kate about her love for the penguins and the natural landscape?
10. Keller’s initial denunciation of tourism in Antarctica seems at odds with his later employment on the Australis, a cruise ship, only a year later. Why do you think he changed his mind? Is he rejecting his ideals in order to return to the continent?
11. How do you feel about Richard?
12. Consider the book’s title, My Last Continent, and Keller’s observation that explorers were obsessed with firsts and now society is obsessed with lasts (page 190). In what ways is Antarctica a “last continent” for those who visit? Why do you think the author chose this title?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In the book, Keller describes his feelings towards Antarctica as fernweh, i.e., the German term for longing for somewhere you’ve never been (page 100). Discuss what places you feel fernweh toward and why you have never visited.
2. “Sometimes I wonder how long this alien invasion—the ships, the humans—can continue before the continent strikes back” (page 113). As a group, research what conservation measures are being undertaken to preserve Antarctica and the penguin colonies by groups such as the Oceanites (www.oceanites.org), Penguins as Sentinels (www.penguinstudies.org), the Antarctic Oceans Alliance (www.antarcticocean.org), and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (www.asoc.org) for more.
3. Penguin Watch offers ways to support Antarctic penguin colonies. Consider participating by observing and marking penguins, nests, eggs, and their neighbors in research images. For more information visit www.penguinwatch.org
4. To learn more about author Midge Raymond visit her website: www.MidgeRaymond.com.
Midge Raymond is the author of the short story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, and a novel, My Last Continent. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, the Los Angeles Times magazine, TriQuarterly, and Bellevue Literary Review, among other places. Learn more at MidgeRaymond.com.
“My Last Continent feels refreshingly different, vivid and immediate. Midge Raymond has an extraordinary gift for description that puts the reader bang in the middle of the action, bang in the middle of its dangerous and endangered world. Her clean, spare prose pulls us irresistibly into the story and the wider issues it raises. She is clearly a writer in command of her craft.”
– M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans
“[A] meditative romance…. Raymond has shown us a continent worth visiting.”
– New York Times Book Review
“There is a romance about faraway, desperate places, about isolation, about ice and snow. Add penguins and you have Midge Raymond’s elegant My Last Continent, a love story about the Antarctic and the creatures, humans included, who are at home there. Half adventure, half elegy, and wholly recommended.”
– Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“My Last Continent is an original and entirely authentic love story. It is a love triangle with Antarctica as the third party, literally and metaphorically. Midge Raymond takes us, physically and emotionally, into an unfamiliar world—a world that has much to teach us. She deftly interweaves a compelling drama with a gentle and subtle love story. It's a mature novel, one that recognizes that love is seldom simple or exclusive, and that the things that bring us together can also keep us apart.”
– Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect
“You turn the pages quickly, caught up in the not-of-this-world drama of it all: Despite the heat of the central duo’s connection, this is a world of ice, where warm hearts struggle to thrive. … Raymond shines in capturing a shivery sense of place, in taking us somewhere most of us will never go. … Romantic? Absolutely. Ominous? That, too.”
– The Seattle Times
"A sensitive explorarion of how ever the smallest action can ripple through an ecosystem--seemingly impenetrable, but as fragile as the human heart."
– The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“At once a high-stakes romance and a cautionary tale about the precariousness of this pristine polar world, Raymond’s masterful debut contemplates the ecological and emotional dangers that lurk within and without uncharted waters.”
"A luminescent, double-layered love story: It's a love story about nature, in which a woman is drawn repeatedly to Antarctica and the vulnerable creatures who make their lives there. And it's a love story about two people who have found in the remote ice the perfect numbing refuge from their pain."
– The Oregonian
“An atmospheric tale of love discovered, and losses endured, in Antarctica. …The unpredictability of the splendors and terrors of life at the southern pole creates a backdrop of foreboding entirely appropriate for the story's cinematic resolution [and] the authentic rendering of the setting distinguishes Raymond's novel from other stories of love in perilous times and places.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“My Last Continent is a complicated love story and an education in the plight of penguins in Antarctica, showcasing the beauty and terror unique to one of the world’s most remote terrains…Raymond skillfully captures the stunning and singular landscape and its special inhabitants.”
– Publishers Weekly
"Atmospheric and adventurous...The story and vivid writing will keep readers glued to the pages."