In 1910, Watts and Heywoud are racing to be the first explorers to reach the South Pole in what becomes a long and dangerous journey. Back in London, Viola, the woman the two men love, anxiously waits for their return. Although Viola is married to Heywoud, she also loves Watts. In the midst of their harrowing trek, Watts fears for his life after Heywoud discovers he has slept with Viola. So when Heywoud pressures Watts to do something unethical, maybe even illegal, he complies.
Back in London, Viola becomes increasingly involved with the women suffragettes who are fighting for the right to vote. She receives permission to photograph a group of women who have been on a hunger strike while in prison. In each photo, Viola poses the women to mimic famous works of art, not hiding all the bruises and scars they suffered while in custody. When Tess, who was going to pose as Botticelli’s Venus, backs out, Viola substitutes herself, knowing that her husband will object to her appearing nude in the exhibition.
Henriette Lazaridis (Credit: Sharona Jacobs)
Henriette Lazaridis’ Terra Nova is an exploration, a physical one, for sure, but also a psychological and emotional one. The chapters alternate between Watts and Heywoud as they battle the elements and each other, and Viola, as she struggles with her feelings that trap her between two men, both of whom she loves. While she worries that Heywoud will discover her betrayal, she also knows she won’t be able to give up Watts.
Viola knows that she is witnessing history as brave women are willing to give their lives for the right to vote. Photographing them makes her, at times, feel important, that she’s helping to tell their stories. But on occasion she feels like a voyeur, watching other women fight for the cause. Not surprising, when she’s given the chance to step in as one of the woman featured in the exhibition, she doesn’t hesitate. But even then, those prominent in the suffragette movement label her a fraud, seeking publicity through the women who have truly taken risks.
Watts and Heywoud survive and return to London to be declared heroes. Rather than the loving reunion Viola had once envisioned, Heywoud is angry, confronting her about the affair. As the leader of the expedition, Heywoud occupies the spotlight, forcing Viola to join him. Watts, who is also a photographer, turns over his plates to Viola so that she can print them. In the darkroom,Viola discovers the secret that has been haunting Watts. Revealing what she knows will not only destroy her marriage, but also Heywoud’s achievements.
Lazaridis’ descriptions of the exhibition in Antarctica induce chills, not only because of the torture the freezing temperatures wrought on the men’s bodies, but also because of what the they have to do to survive. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the teeming London streets where survival looks different, particularly for the women who are protesting and placing their lives on the line.
The three members of the love triangle – Viola, Heywoud and Watts – are well drawn and fascinating. The two men are very different, but it’s easy to understand Viola’s attraction to them. Heywoud is strong and ambitious, while Watts is supportive of Viola’s ambitions. Looking at her photos of the Suffragettes, he’s not afraid to admit she’s more talented than he is.
In the end, the novel is about discovering love and the truth and the willingness to fight for what is right, no matter the cost.
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