Book Review: The White Darkness – Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness  by Geraldine McCaughrean. Harper Teen, 2007

I wrote the title of this novel down a while back (after reading a review in The Guardian I think), in a notebook that is now at the bottom of a cardboard box. I had every intention of tracking the book down, but, as happens, one notebook led to another and the title was momentarily forgotten about.

To find a pristine, hardback copy the other day in a charity shop, for £1.49 made my day. Especially when to find a decent book in a charity shop for less than three quid is incredibly rare.

‘The White Darkness’ is a riveting mystery/survival story about fourteen year old, Antarctica nerd and partly deaf Symone (Sym) Wates, her imaginary friend Titus Oates and a mystery, once in a lifetime expedition to Antarctica. It is Sym’s ‘Uncle,’ Victor Briggs, who organises the trip, but this chap has more than a few screws loose.

Antarctica has always been Sym’s ideal travel destination, and she’s stunned yet ecstatic when Victor announces the news. What Sym doesn’t know, however, is that the trip to the frozen continent is about satisfying Victor’s obsession with the Hollow Earth theories of John Cleves Symmes Jr. Victor is determined to secure his name in history and is willing to sacrifice everything that gets in the way of him pursuing his dream, and that includes our heroine Sym.

One of the reasons I really wanted to read this novel was because of the link to Oates. It was years ago that I became infatuated with the iconic figure of the damned Scott expedition, yet at the time, it didn’t even cross my mind that he had, from beyond his frozen grave, captured the hearts of potentially thousands of other women. It’s that sort of ‘oblivious crush’ where you think, ‘surely, nobody else would have even thought about him in that way, so he’s all mine to fantasise about.’ I felt the same about Lars Ulrich back in the day. Anyway, I have to say that when I first read about this novel, the this feature of Oates, especially as a figure of desire came as something of a strange surprise and I was eager and curious to discover what was what.

The White Darkness is a YA novel that surpasses age. I’m 26 and I bloody loved it. I felt a certain connection with Sym on numerous levels.

McCaughrean’s descriptions of Antarctica during the polar summer are almost overwhelming in their vividness. She never fails to describe, in a fantastically unique way, ‘the white darkness’ when the sun never sets. This is the sort of book I close after the first chapter and hug to my chest. Why? Because the writing hits just the spot and I’m elated to have found a novel which I can be sure will be a hugely satisfying read. It isn’t often a book can do that. McCaughrean is up there with Markus Zusak, Michael Ende and Richard Adams.

The only thing that dissapointed me with this book – the front cover.