Sunday, February 17, 2008

The White Darkness

If you haven't read The White Darkness yet, and don't want to know what happens, skip this post.

Okay? Okay.

I honestly don't have much to say about it beyond saying it was gripping, terrifying, but not really believable. With each step of Victor's plan, I kept thinking, really? He's really pulling all of this off? But once I let go of that factor, I gave in to the awful breakneck speed of the events and could hardly read fast enough, not so much to find out what happened, but to get it over with. The vastness of all of that endless snow and ice in Antarctica managed to feel totally wide open and endless, yet completely claustrophobic. I found myself not caring who died, or what they found or didn't find, but only caring that the book would end and I could get out of all that awful snow. So, good on McCaughrean for creating such a vivid and frightening setting.

At first, having not read the flap copy or even any reviews of the book, I had no idea what would really happen. I was certain there was something unseemly about Victor, but I really thought he was maybe molesting Sym or something. He came off as creepy right from the start, to me. With Victor taking Sym away from her mother to a hotel clearly set up for just the two of them, with Sym's need to clutch so tightly to Captain Oates when she needs to "get away", and with her poem on pages 90 and 91 where she says, "secrets hidden are all/forbidden," I just thought that was where it was going. When it quickly became obvious that Victor was totally insane, cruel, awful, etc, I found myself getting so frustrated with Symone. She never seemed as "slow" or "dumb" (for lack of a much better word) as she sometimes claimed to be, or was made out to be. So for her to repeatedly get swept up in Victor's plans, to continue to think of Victor as brave and herself as gutless and spineless, was so frustrating. Victor turned out to be such a monster; I was really gunning for Symone to brain him with that ice pick!

That's just lots of random rambling. I don't have anything especially critical to say about the book. I'm not even sure I could say that I liked it. It was certainly compelling and unusual. I'm interested to know what others thought.


kristin said...

Amanda, I got frustrated with Sym sometimes, too; I wondered at times if the author was taking an intentionally deceptive "she's a bit slow" stance. Like, she knew Sym was smart, but she was going to pretend sometimes that Sym wasn't, if that makes sense. I think I started wondering about this when Sigurd (and what a loser he was) started calling his father Mr. Bruch, and I, as the reader, was like, "Umm, Sym, are you an idiot? Don't you notice that Sigurd has just started calling his father Mr. Bruch? Do you think that just maybe, Mr. Bruch isn't Sigurd's father, and this can be the point where you start to suspect his identity and his motives?" But then a few lines later, Oates points out that Sigurd had just called his father Mr. Bruch, and Sym says, "You think I didn't notice?" Well, actually, yes, I thought you didn't notice, because I only assume you notice things if the author indicates in some way that you notice things... but maybe I should stop assuming that now? Maybe I should assume that whenever something doesn't check out for me, it makes you suspicious, too? Except that you still really seem to think that your idiotic sociopathic uncle is a nice guy and the earth is a hollow sphere, so maybe you actually are dumb?

I didn't want her to be dumb. But sometimes she felt too naive to be realistic-- or maybe just too naive for me to like her tons. Or maybe I was underestimating her.

I think the book was beautifully written, and beautifully bizarre. I also think it was too long. I got restless somewhere in the middle, and I don't think it was just wanting to get out of the horrible brightness and ice and snow. I think I was legitimately bored.

I lovedlovedloved Sym's relationship with Captain Oates. What a magnificent and refreshing twist that was. Completely believable and understandable, in my opinion.

(And I also thought Uncle Victor was a molester at the beginning. What a creepoid he was, ugh.)

So, to sum up my reaction in one word: ambivalence. But I'm glad I read it, and I'd like to read more of her stuff. That lady can write. If anyone can recommend anything in particular, please let me know!

Julie said...

I really enjoyed reading this book, although I didn't always like it, as both Kristin and Amanda have indicated. You both described Sym perfectly - sometimes she seemed way too naive or oblivious - she was a little slow picking up on the whole blowing up the plane/drugging everyone's tea, too. (And the fact that Victor stole her mom's passport didn't make her seek out the police immediately - what the heck.) Yet she didn't appear to be blindly believing in Victor, either, so I never got the sense that she was blinded by affection or hero worship. I also thought Victor was almost too crazy to be taken as a threat - when the whole hollow sphere thing came out I was like, come on, really? Especially when we find out he was experimenting on Sym when she was little - the nuttiness of the hollow sphere undercut Victor as a villain for me, although there's no denying the damage he did.

The writing was amazing throughout - I had to put it down several times because I was too caught up in the expansive claustrophobia of Antarctica. I couldn't believe in the author afterward that she's never actually been to Antarctica.

So in the end I'm glad I read it - the images of the cold still get to me (perhaps an effect of subzero temps where I live - yuck). I also loved the Sym/Oates relationship - that was by far my favorite part. It was handled perfectly - believable and intriguing without making Sym seem like she was losing a grip on reality, which is how it might sound if you were describing it to someone. It was a great way to explore Sym's wounds and the ways she was healing.

kristin said...

Julie, you verbalized my feelings about the Sym/Oates relationship, too, and you helped me to realize that whatever fondness I developed for Sym came from the humanity she showed in that relationship. I couldn't help liking Sym-- even though she frustrated me-- because I liked that she liked Oates; and I liked that Oates liked her and helped her; and I liked Oates, period, both as a person and a concept. I also understood the type of loneliness that causes someone to create that kind of friend. I really loved the Oates thing!

Jess said...

I agree about the quality of the writing and Sym's relationship with Oates (so well done!). I ALSO felt frustrated...both with Sym and how slowly the book seemed to move in the middle. It took me a long time to get through this one, but there were definitely things I liked about it.

Marie Abigail said...

What had happen to Sigurd and Sym toards the end when they were by the fire?