White by Marie Darrieussecq

Edmeé and Pete have never met. They come from separate parts of the globe, but White follows their individual journeys to Antarctica and each other.

Why do you sign up for a job in such freezing conditions if you are not a scientist or adventurer seeking some new discovery? What is it that Edmeé and Pete want from the ice and snow, from the endless whiteness that splits champagne bottles in half and requires constant vigilance against for survival?

Pete is the generator engineer. Everyone relies on his ability to keep that generator going.

Edmeé works the radio. She is the only woman at the station.

Over the days and weeks, the hours of endless daylight, the ghosts of the past linger in the whiteness of the Antarctic seeking the heart beats and emotions of the living. Looking for ways to enliven themselves, seeing connections before those they inhabit can.

Both Edmeé and Pete have come the Antarctic to leave something behind, to find an anonymity and silence that they then struggle to find in a cramped, sweaty, camp.

Pete is Icelandic but of Indian heritage and Edmeé is a French Canadian married to an American. Both of them have had strange childhoods filled with unspoken abandonments that cloud in on them in the biting air of the Antarctic.

Everytime I read Marie Darriuessecq I’m struck by how beautifully she weaves her words and ideas. There is an economy to her writing that allows huge amounts to be said through the description of every day events – the drudge of fixing and connecting machinery, the necessity of food. Though the Antarctic is not an environment of the everyday, it is if you have to live it and this white out speaks with the many voices of memory both across that frozen sea and individually for Edmeé and Pete. You have to pay attention to see the edges and seeds of their adult struggle and that attention is delightfully rewarded. To be able to express so much in such a short book is something to aspire to. I loved White. You’ll know if this kind of writing is for you.

I’ll be reviewing Ordinary People by Diana Evans next.