Gavin Francis Vintage, £8.99
Already named Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Of The Year, this is an Edinburgh doctor’s account of the 14 months he spent as medic for the Halley research station in Antarctica. Only accessible for four months in the year, it seemed like the ideal place for Francis to have a good long think about what to do with the rest of his life. When he got there, he found being cooped up with 14 colleagues less conducive to contemplation than he had hoped, so he went out into the harsh open air every day, allowing him to observe the Emperor penguins who live there. But, despite the subtitle and cover photo, this is less about penguins than about a man finding himself in solitude. The fact that, after this long period of soul-searching, he more or less returned to his old life is a tad anticlimactic, but Empire Antarctica is an absorbing account of life at the end of the world. Who would have thought that Dundee had inspired so much poetry? Inevitably, the first poet that springs to mind is McGonagall, and if the purpose of this collection is to wipe away the city’s association with risible doggerel and rehabilitate its cultural reputation then the editors have succeeded admirably. It is an ambitious project that mainly ranges from the late 19th century (though it dips back as far as the 15th century Blind Harry) onwards to the present generation of poets either from or associated with Dundee – such as John Burnside, Kathleen Jamie, Douglas Dunn and Don Paterson – to celebrate “the Tay, the town, the times, the types and the temper”. One gets the sense that no stone has been left unturned to find the best work to fill these 240 pages, and editor WN Herbert has even slipped in his own poetic response to McGonagall’s millstone. Destined to be a gift for many East Coast folk on Christmas morn.