Friday, March 03, 2006
A fearless piece of writing, here is a novel prepared somewhat like a banquet for a medieval king. Whereas the king might have a swan stuffed with a goose stuffed with a duck stuffed with a pigeon, in The White Darkness Geraldine McCaughrean offers a ghost story inside a love story inside a psychological thriller inside a rite of passage story, all wrapped up in a snow-bound adventure to rival anything by Hammond Innes. Surrounding the central character is a cast of villains that make you want to shout angrily at the page. But the head and the heart of the story lie with Sym, doughty teenaged heroine with a hearing aid, who learns bitter lessons of love betrayed as she heads further and further into seemingly inescapable, mortal danger. Even her most constant admirer, the imaginary shade of long dead polar explorer Captain Oats, eventually deserts her, though not, it turns out, for good. The fact that Sym’s eventual salvation is both satisfying and convincing is a tribute to Geraldine McCaughrean’s much praised skill as a writer. With this book she has created a rare feast of layers, twists and contrasts. And the essence of the story seems somehow contained within the lyrical contradiction of the title itself.
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