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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Marie Darrieussecq

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To purchase White

Title: White
Author: Marie Darrieussecq
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 145 pages
Original in: French
Availability: White - US
White - UK
White - Canada
White - Canada (French)
White - France
  • French title: White
  • Translated by Ian Monk

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Our Assessment:

B+ : vivid description, not used to quite enough ends

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/5/2005 Michael Worton
The Guardian . 6/5/2006 Jerome de Groot
The Independent . 5/5/2006 Emma Hagestadt
New Statesman . 30/5/2005 Sheena Joughin
The Observer . 12/6/2005 Anita Sethi
Sunday Telegraph . 19/6/2005 Lucy Dallas
The Times . 4/6/2005 Philip Oltermann

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "White shows Darrieussecq at her imaginative and poetic best. It takes time to enter fully into this world of snow, ice and nothingness, but after 10 or so pages, the reader is enthralled. (...) Is this a novel about nothing ? Or about nothingness ? Yes and no. (...) The novel's ambition demands audacious writing, and Darrieussecq certainly has nerve. (...) Above all, her imagination of a frozen world where life is rethought from outside and through the physical is a major achievement. This is indeed writing on a grand scale in a slim volume." - Michael Worton, The Guardian

  • "This slight novel is a nuanced account of the effects of isolation. (...) The novel is good on the day-to-day boredom of solitude, the irritating dangers of the extreme cold, and the way that being totally divorced from the world can be both devastating and slowly miraculous." - Jerome de Groot, The Guardian

  • "This is an unconventional novel that largely takes place in people's heads, and includes elements of SF and fantasy -- packed with ideas and poetic language, but one that requires patience to defrost." - Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

  • "White is not so much a story as an ongoing situation, the main components of which are whiteness, silence, space and memory. (...) White is an inscrutable novel, and reading it in this translation often feels like puzzling over a crossword with the wrong set of clues. (...) That the novel remains absorbing, and somehow charged, despite a lack of the poetry for which Darrieussecq is well known, is evidence of her consummate skill and her very particular art, which is haunted, haunting, rich and strange." - Sheena Joughin, New Statesman

  • "(F)lawed communication is rife in the novel. Still, it is the desire to communicate, to verify experience by sharing it, which draws them out of isolation, by which they resist total obliteration. (...) Rarely does Darrieussecq grace us with complete sentences; instead, she chops them up into chunks of floating ice. In describing a place where saliva freezes, dialogue is absent. Such techniques make for difficult but rewarding reading; just as the novel is about to be snowed under by abstraction and opacity, as you are about to drift away, the sudden, startling warmth of a human body or the ice-cold clarity of a human mind will jolt you awake." - Anita Sethi, The Observer

  • "Ian Monk's translation of Darrieussecq's demanding style is fluid without smoothing over the twists and jumps of the original. White is both a departure from and a deepening of her already impressive technique. As ever, Marie Darrieussecq is a step ahead." - Lucy Dallas, Sunday Telegraph

  • "At times, White’s snowstorm of impressionistic metaphors can be disorientating. When Darrieussecq’s plotline fades behind yet another insomnia-induced daydream, one longs for a little less Septimus Smith and a little more Mrs Dalloway. But as with Pig Tales, there is an imaginative boldness here that knows no borders, and it redeems the poetic meanderings." - Philip Oltermann, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       White is an Antarctic adventure, focussed on two of the people who have signed up to spend a season at a European research station in the most bitter cold. Peter Tomson is the man who is to take care of the generator, the vital piece of machinery that keeps the station running. Edmée Blanco -- the only woman there -- is in charge of communication, specifically with the outside world.
       Antarctica is the ultimate escape, practically unreachable, completely isolated. White begins with the approaches of the two central characters, Edmée coming by ship, Peter by plane. They are not obviously on the run, but it is no surprise that anyone willing to work and live here is trying to get away from something.

     It is a place for doing nothing, what he suspects about her is that she is like him: here to do nothing. Fed and watered, no questions to churn over. The incredible distance. Work as justification.
       Of course, it doesn't prove to be that easy.
       Darrieussecq is very good on the physical detail of the voyages and then of Antarctica. The smells of the ship Edmée is travelling on -- and the almost unavoidable seasickness -- are particularly well realised (do not start this book on a sea-voyage ...). The barren expanse that is Antarctica, and particularly the cold that causes everything to freeze within the shortest possible time is also convincingly evoked.
       Life at the station is relatively uneventful, but the book manages to maintain considerable tension, first with the hazards of reaching the station, and then with the suspense of whether or not Peter can start and then keep the generator going. If not, there's an emergency procedure -- but it's a disastrous abandon-ship-like last resort, meaning the whole expedition was essentially a waste. (Three guesses whether or not that comes to pass .....)
       Darrieussecq also adds some atmosphere with the spirit of previous Antarctic explorers (particularly the ill-fated Sctott expedition), as well as some ghostly presences -- quite well done, but not entirely convincing. Darrieussecq has a decent touch with them, but it seems unnecessary embellishment.
       The tragedy that drove Edmée to take this position (it was this or Guyana, and she chose the cold over the tropical heat) is hinted at several times but only revealed near the end. It's bad enough, but not entirely clear that it needs to be presented in this roundabout way.
       The story doesn't really build conventionally, but since its greatest strength is in the detail (of the physically dangerous cold, as well as nature's other forces) that's not that much of a problem. And there is a narrative arc, decent enough to go with these so-evocative scenes.

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White: Reviews: Marie Darrieussecq: Other books by Marie Darrieussecq under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       French author Marie Darrieussecq was born in 1969. She is a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and has written several acclaimed novels.

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