May 10, 2007

Into the Frozen Heartland

The further you go in, the darker this story becomes. Geraldine McCaughrean has written a delicately taut novel of obsession, deceit and suspense in The White Darkness.

Symone knows that, okay, she's weird. She's had an ongoing love affair with a guy who died something like seventy-six years before she was born -- one Titus Oates, who was a member of Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole ninety years ago. Titus lives in Sym's head, and it is with him that she shares all of her thoughts, her loves, hopes and dreams.

Sym needs Titus, because it is really a very strange life that she leads. Her father died of a long, horrible sickness where he no longer recognized her, and he really hated her. Her Uncle Victor dosed him with herbs and pills, and everyone knows that her father lived longer because Victor - not really her Uncle, but a dear family friend - did his best for him. Sym's had it rough -- she's always been a little garbled, always been a little disconnected and silence, at least since junior high. She lost much of her hearing then, and got stuck with hearing aids. But her Uncle Victor -- such a smart guy, with an IQ of 184 -- has always been there for her. Even when Dad died, Uncle Victor stuck by them, moving in, helping pay off their mortgage, and giving them the benefit of his helpfulness and his humor.

When Uncle Victor offers Sym and her mother a trip to Paris, it is a gift. Too bad Mom looses her passport at the last moment; Sym intends to enjoy herself, even though Uncle Victor is acting weird, even though they end up in a strange little dive with only two beds, and even though she finds her mother's passport in his... pocket. Uncle Victor is going to take her where she's always dreamed of going -- to the South Pole. And he's going to find a new world there, whatever the cost...

Reading this novel is like walking from a lit room down cold, narrow stairs into a basement -- but one keeps reading because up ahead there is a tiny glimpse ...of...something white... light? A ghost? Pick this one up and clear your afternoon - you'll want to read it in one sitting like I did!

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