Friday, April 20, 2007

Sexy dead white men

I just finished The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. She is a terrific writer, and this creepy, dramatic, exciting story is no exception. Symone is a hard-of-hearing, awkward, fatherless, and pretty much friendless teen who has a special relationship (not sexual) with an adult male she calls Uncle Victor. She and Uncle Victor share an interest in the Antarctic, and Sym has ongoing conversations with one of the heroes of Scott's failed trek to the South Pole, Titus Oates.

Sym, who is more than a little naive, ends up on a trek to the Antarctic with Uncle Victor (and without the knowledge of her mother). And it turns out that Uncle Victor is a complete lunatic who believes that he has found the location of Symme's Hole -- an opening in the Earth leading to an inner world (http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/day/04_12_2001.html). He is taking Sym (get it?) there so that she can begin procreating a new race in this world. He is nuts ... but the Antarctic is simply no place to be nuts in. Sym's survival makes for one heck of a story.

This audiobook is narrated by Sym ... and the reader, Ruth Sillers, is outstanding. She creates an excellent character study of innocence, awkwardness, growing knowledge, and out and out rage. Interspersed in Sym's narrative is the voice of Titus Oates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates) -- even more skillfully created by Richard Morant (who played the role of Oates in a television mini-series that was on Masterpiece Theatre in the 80s or 90s [and which I must obviously watch again!]). Morant has a calm, sexy delivery that had to be hard as heck to pull off. He has no narration to create the emotional moments where he has dialog -- he just has to drop it in without context for himself. And, yet every line reading was true ... and simply wonderful to listen to. No wonder Sym found what was inside her head a little more exciting than what was outside.

Despite this, I didn't nominate it. Perching on the fence, I found the story making its way in a bit too leisurely a fashion for listening. Lots of exposition and much description of harsh, beautiful, icy Antarctica do not make for great listening. By the end, though, it was terrifically exciting ... maybe it's a better read.

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