The Arch of Kerguelen.
Four Walls Eight Windows.
O.K. I'll admit it - for a number of years I have harboured a secret fascination with "The Islands of Desolation" as Captain Cook named them, or The Kerguel-ens, as they are known today.
O.K., O.K. - you are right - I was not fascinated by all of the islands, just that one small part that Cook visited during Christmas 1776, which he aptly named "Christmas Harbour". Why such a fascination? Well, it is the history of the "harbour" and its many visitors over the years, as well as the unique geological structure that stands at the southern point of the mouth of the inlet - the arch of Kerguelen. So I was delighted when I encountered this book, which I assumed from its title, was devoted to the topic.
The book is a translation of Kauffmann's account of his visit to Kerguelen in about 1990. He acquits himself well, giving vivid accounts of his adventures, and setting scenes against the backcloth of previous events in the history of the island. His book is littered with a range of historic and literary references, ranging from Kerguelen himself in 1772, to a novel by Alan Sillitoe in 1983. Kauffmann saves his visit to Christmas Harbour for the last chapter, building up the suspense of his "pilgrimage" to the Arch of Kerguelen.
And then, on the 199th and final page of the book, Kauffmann pulls the rug out from under the reader's feet with an almost casual remark that his trip to Christmas Harbour was cancelled due to bad weather!!! The author neither rants nor raves at this circumstance, which is more than can be said for this reviewer.
SO - if you are fascinated at the prospect of seeing Christmas Harbour through another's eyes, then don't buy this book. But if you want an entertaining history of the island of Kerguelen, as it appears in both fact and fiction, then this is a good read.
P.S. The Arch of Kerguelen is no more, it collapsed about 1910 leaving two giant pillars.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 41, volume 29, number 4 (2006).