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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

White Shadow

Roy Jacobsen

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To purchase White Shadow

Title: White Shadow
Author: Roy Jacobsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 264 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: White Shadow - US
White Shadow - UK
White Shadow - Canada
Mer blanche - France
Weißes Meer - Deutschland
Mare bianco - Italia
El mar blanco - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Norwegian title: Hvitt hav
  • The second in The Barrøy Chronicles
  • Translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw

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Our Assessment:

B : good, but something of a middle-volume of a series

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 5/2019 Paul Binding
TLS . 14/2/2020 Daniel Marc Janes
World Lit. Today . Fall/2021 Thomas Nolden

  From the Reviews:
  • "White Shadow retains many of The Unseen’s pleasures, not least Jacobsen’s clean, spare prose (.....) For all these joys, White Shadow falls short of its predecessor. (...) White Shadow (...) takes place over a year and the day-by-day endurance is superseded by plot necessities. (...) All the same, White Shadow is vividly detailed and admirably unsentimental, a noble tribute to the human struggle for decency." - Daniel Marc Janes, Times Literary Supplement

  • "White Shadow is yet another masterpiece by Jacobsen (.....) Despite the inability of the protagonist to articulate what she is experiencing and her lack of introspection, White Shadow is a powerful psychological novel precisely because it doesn’t bother to give a voice to Ingrid." - Thomas Nolden, World Literature Today

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 Shadow is the second installment of The Barrøy Chronicles, the story picking up several years after the events of The Unseen. The novel opens well into World War II, in 1944, Norway still occupied by the Germans, and the island of Barrøy deserted, with only Ingrid, now a mature woman of thirty-five, remaining nearby, working splitting fish for ten hours a day -- though:

     Ingrid longed to be gone, to be back on Barrøy, but no-one can be alone on an island and this autumn neither man nor beast was there, Barrøy lay deserted and abandoned, it hadn't even been visible since the end of October, but she couldn't be here on the main island either.
       Ingrid is pulled back to the island -- and over the course of the novel it slowly fills again, with a coming and going of more people: her aunt, Barbro -- in hospital with a broken leg at the start of the novel --, refugees, workers, and, eventually, more family. For quite a while, however, Ingrid is basically on her own -- and then briefly shares her life there with a man who is little more than a shadow.
       Jacobsen sets the novel around the historic sinking of the MS Rigel in November of 1944, with almost three thousand souls on board, most of them prisoners of war; more than 2500 lives were lost. Two of the survivors washed up on Barrøy, but by the time Ingrid comes across them one is dead and the other barely alive. With her help, he survives -- and eludes the authorities, who eventually also come around to look for survivors. The man's identity isn't clear, and he and Ingrid don't share a language, but she at least learns his name -- Alexander -- and they do briefly share a passionate, intimate connection, before Ingrid sends him off to greater safety.
       The authorities who come around are led by Nazi occupier Leutnant Hargel and Quisling local Police Chief Henriksen, and they later come around again and, it's clear -- though she retains practically no memory of it --, violate Ingrid, as the book then jumps forward a bit in time from the first part to the second, Ingrid waking up in a hospital, away from her island once again but knowing: "she would have to go back to Barrøy to regain her senses". And so she eventually does, and as the island also slowly fills around her, and the war comes to an end, she reëstablishes herself and finds her place again -- and a new role, as she is pregnant with Alexander's child, and eventually gives birth to a girl -- "a child of the Rigel".
       The middle volume of what was originally planned as a trilogy (but which Jacobsen expanded on so that it is now a quartet), White Shadow has something of a transitional feel, neither beginning nor end -- a bit of treading water. Much here is compelling, especially the strong character of Ingrid in action, as she tries to see to it that things get done and people are taken care of. But the trauma that she suffers, and which she seems unable to confront head-on, even as it weighs on her, is, on the one hand, a lot to burden her and the story with, yet also pushed mostly into the background: like several other things in the novel, it is presented in a more shadowy manner.
       Jacobsen is a very good storyteller, especially of the everyday, down to details such as Ingrid wanting a cat, and his unsentimental approach works very well here -- not least in at least one surprising death that occurs.
       White Shadow is a fine novel, even on its own, but doesn't have quite the stark power of the first volume in the series. Still, it's certainly worthwhile, and looks to be a solid part of a greater whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 December 2023

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White Shadow: Reviews: Other books by Roy Jacobsen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen was born in 1954.

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© 2023 the complete review

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