Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The White Darkness

McCaughrean, Geraldine. 2007. The White Darkness. (First U.S. edition, 2007; originally published in 2005).

What can I say about The White Darkness? Really? It was strange. Odd. One-of-a-kind. There were moments when I was really loving the oddness of it. After all, how many writers begin off their novel like this:

I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now--which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter. Besides he isn't dead inside my head. We talk about all kinds of things. From whether hair color can change spontaneously to whether friends are better than family, and the best age for marrying: 14 or 125. Generally speaking, he knows more than I do, but on that particular subject we are even. He wasn't married--at least he wasn't when he died, which must have substantially cut down his chances. (1)

Who is Titus Oates? Why has he--though dead--captured this young teen's heart? He was an Antarctic explorer in Robert Scott's expedition in 1911/12. Her uncle fueled her interest in the Antarctic through books and dvds. Now, she is mesmerized and a tad obsessed. It must run in the family.

Her family. Also odd. There is her father who died after months of strange behavior. There is her "uncle" Victor who while no blood relation, takes the family under his protection. And there is the mother. The mother who is almost always silent. The author has almost chosen to give her no voice in this novel. And then there is our narrator, Symone. She is odd. She is to some extent deaf. She cannot hear anything without her hearing aids. That doesn't make her odd necessarily. I'm not suggesting it does. But wearing hearing aids at such a young age, does make Sym--as she calls herself--feel a little out of place with her peers. That and the fact that she is almost constantly in conversation with a dead man. Sym and Titus. An odd combination of narrators. He does play a vital role in the story. But whether that is because he provides some relief and normalcy from the other actually "real" characters...or if he is just proof of her insanity...is debatable.

The story. What happens. Uncle Victor surprises Sym with a trip to Paris. But this isn't an ordinary trip to Paris. Without telling anyone--her mom, her school, etc--he is planning to head off to Antarctica with his "niece." Symone doesn't know either, not at first. And when she does find out, she tries to contact her mother--but there always seems to be some circumstance blocking her. The phone doesn't work. The radio is out. The two, Victor and Symone, are part of a group of tourists--or are they??? What is Uncle Victor's real motivations in dragging his "niece" all this way? And why is Symone only now beginning to see just how strange her uncle truly is?

I hesitate to describe any more of the novel. I don't want to spoil the plot. But I do want to say this. The further into the novel I read, the more uncomfortable I became. The less charmed I was by the quirkiness of the narration. It became evident fairly early on that we were talking of a severe case of mental illness. The narrator's mental status also being up for debate. The other characters? All equally strange and unexplainable. There was no one normal. No one trustworthy. No one that you could actually relate to or like. Everyone was either odd, weird, strange, quirky, or eccentric.

Do I like the novel? Not really. Why? I found the characters a little too odd. Too extreme. I just didn't connect with them. Yes, I kept reading the story. Yes, I suppose I wanted to know what happened. But it was more about closure--I didn't want to leave them stranded out on the ice without learning how it was resolved. I didn't like the characters. I thought they were all crazy.

Other readers may have a different take on the novel. It may appeal to them in a way that it doesn't for me. I can only say that this novel wasn't quite my style. We didn't really click that well.

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