The premise of The White Darkness is absolutely fascinating– slightly insane girl gets dragged to the arctic by her more insane uncle and must fight man and nature to survive. But the story’s execution wasn’t so fascinating.
The setting and characters were often too strange to be believable. Sym’s multiple personality disorder with this persona of a long-dead explorer was acceptably quirky. I could not relate, but I could wrap my mind around it. However, her willfully ignorant adoration of her insane uncle rendered her one of the weakest female characters I’ve ever read about. The way she idealizes ignorance and “a little child’s imagination” (35) made me despise her. Victor, as a character, was completely over the top. His insanity was obvious from the moment he “lost” Sym’s mom’s passport and would not let Sym call home. From then on, it was easy to guess that he was scamming Manfrud, that he was drugging the members of the Pengwings Expeditionary Force, and that he never intended for Sym to leave Antarctica alive. My only surprise from this character was that he murdered Sym’s father.
Dialogue often confused me, like I was listening to part of a group conversation where a hidden party was saying something to connect the other peoples' statements. It was jolting and unnatural. Here’s an example:
Sigurd: “Your uncle, at home, his profession is . . . ?”
Sym: “Yes! I know.”
Sigurd: “You like maybe the animals . . .”
Sym: “I heard penguins stink.”
Sigurd: “I heard that also. That is a very attractive skirt.”
Sym: “Is that the itinerary. Can I see it?”
Setting promised to be a highlight of this story. Some descriptions shine as excellent writing like this one:
“I chose not to believe in weather stations and trucks and prefabricated igloos painted fire-engine red. I preferred to believe in meteorites nicking the planet’s skin, needle sharp starlight pricking it, the blood of dogs and ponies” (74).
Descriptions of the arctic wilderness were interesting at first, but became overdone and monotonous. I identified with a reader review on amazon.com that said, “We get it. It’s white!” There were even descriptions that, frankly, made no sense to me like this one:
“The horizon, for the first time was sharp as wire- three wired, in fact, because the horizon had tripled. And there floating above it, with a hand span of sky for a moat, hung a jet-black palace.”
Minute detail, and high emotion in description was wonderful. Here’s an example: “He threw the tin of syrup so that it hit the mantel-piece and we all sat and watched the syrup drip, drip, dripping into the grate like big amber tears” (69). But the narrative was so description-heavy that it was hard to find the beautiful moments.
Themes of The White Darkness include ignorance, innocence, exploration, discovery, crime, insanity, sexual discovery, love, and survival. A significant sub-theme is the contrast between subconscious knowledge and personal willingness to admit that knowledge. Sym says, “Every crime like this needs someone like me to look away and say nothing,” pointing out that her unwillingness to consciously admit certain facts allowed someone else to do wrong. The biggest theme is friendship, friendship which overcomes obstacles and fights for it’s own existence. Sym says, “Friends aren’t friends who tell you black is white just because you want it to be,” recognizing that friendship in itself requires one to stand up and say the right thing whether or not it’s going to be accepted.