Sunday, May 10, 2009

The White Darkness

By Geraldine McCaughrean.

For some reason this book reminds me of Flannery O'Connor: there's a crooked Bible salesman who takes advantage of naivety, a girl doing home study for her doctorate in micropettiness, and some crutches. Oh yes, and a surprise vacation to Antarctica. Can't imagine how I forgot that little detail.

None of the details above are actually true but there is a resemblance.

Symone Wates is obsessed with Titus Oates and his doomed 1911 Antarctic expedition. Now that he's dead, he doesn't have any pressing commitments in his schedule, so he's free to follow her around -- or so she imagines, anyway. She has a very active imagination. So when her uncle (really a family ... acquaintance) takes her on a weekend holiday to Paris and then announces a spontaneous trip to Antarctica, she imagines nothing is wrong. The trip that follows contains increasingly disturbing revelations.

What I liked: The first thing that really struck me was the early scene in the diner where Sym discloses a certain fact about herself. The book also covers a lot of information about the Antarctic without infodumping (much). Sym's voice is very well done and highly readable. The tension is pretty high throughout the book without becoming unbearable. (Since she's the narrator, we can assume she survives unless the author pulls a Lovely Bones-style* trick, right?)

What I didn't like: Sym's naivety is incredible. When people in the Antarctic base camp get sick and she doesn't, she dismisses it as adjustment problems. When the plane that would have brought them home explodes, she dismisses it as a fuel leak or insulation problem. This is a survival novel but although she has to survive the Antarctic, the real challenge is surviving her uncle. The problem is that she doesn't realize that for a long time. Also, she is the only character who is really likable (Titus Oates is too, but mostly he's her).

This has a great narrator in Sym, incredibly creepy family dynamics, and a high-tension trek through the Antarctic (to say wasteland is a redundancy, although it is beautiful, like many deadly things) with a madman. I doubt I would read it again but I might read another book about Sym if any were published.

* Disclaimer: I haven't actually read Lovely Bones but am pretty sure it has a dead narrator.

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