Chasing the Light Synopsis:
It’s the early 1930s. Antarctic open-sea whaling is booming and a territorial race for the mysterious continent between Norwegian and British-Australian interests is in full swing.
Aboard a ship setting sail from Cape Town carrying the Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen are three women: Lillemor Rachlew, who tricked her way on to the ship and will stop at nothing to be the first woman to land on Antarctica; Mathilde Wegger, a grieving widow who’s been forced to join the trip by her calculating parents-in-law; and Lars’s wife, Ingrid Christensen, who has longed to travel to Antarctica since she was a girl and has made a daunting bargain with Lars to convince him to take her.
Loyalties shift and melt and conflicts increase as they pass through the Southern Ocean and reach the whaling grounds. None of the women is prepared for the reality of meeting the whaling fleet and experiencing firsthand the brutality of the icy world.
As they head for the continent itself, the race is on for the first woman to land on Antarctica. None of them expect the outcome and none of them know how they will be changed by their arrival.
Based on the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica, Jesse Blackadder has captured the drama, danger and magnetic pull of exploring uncharted places in our world and our minds.
From the moment I stumbled upon this novel while collating titles for an article showcasing book releases by Aussie Authors, it called out to me. From then on, whenever I went into a bookstore my eyes were inexplicably drawn to its beautiful yet haunting cover art.
Fiction based on fact and that fact relating to pioneering women – what more could I want.
From the very first passages, I was struck by the strength of Blackadder’s writing – confident yet judicious, I had a feeling I was in very safe hands. I quickly became immersed in the story.
While not the only characters worthy of mention in Chasing the Light, the females are the driving force. All three women on the expedition are subtly and carefully developed, resulting in individuality and depth of persona not often achieved in fiction. While all displayed differing qualities I found endearing in some way, my personal favourite was grieving widow Mathilde Wegger.
Mathilde turned her body away from his and concentrated on pouring the boiling water into the coffee pot, smelling the sharp scent of it. The steam rose into her face and she hoped it was that making her eyes water, and not the simple offer of help from another human being. She couldn’t do it, not yet. If this big man with his work-worn hands started to fillet the trout in her sink, his knife would slice through the straining stitches that kept the remnants of her life together, and the whole lining would fall apart, the innards gushing out like the viscera of a fish, and she would never get it packed away neatly again.
In Mathilde, Blackadder has delivered a restrained yet inspiring story of inner strength and personal growth.
The first half of the novel was one of the strongest and most compelling I’ve come across, with the position of women in society at the time skilfully conveyed through the characters colourful and varied back-stories. If this work has a fault it is that this level of intensity and aplomb was not sustained throughout.
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly was lost in the novel’s latter half, other than perhaps the mystery of the characters having now become so well acquainted with them. While the powerful descriptions of events and uncensored relay of character’s thoughts remained, their delivery lacked some of the earlier poise.
Something I particularly admired was the way Blackadder avoided the cliche of denigrating the male characters as a means to elevate the women. Her telling applied a measured lens to the strengths and weakness of all. I think it is due in large part to this, along with the author’s obvious passion for research, that Chasing the Light exudes such credibility.
Also worthy of note is Blackadder’s acknowledgement of Mother Nature as a powerful and munificent force – her descriptions of scenery vivid and colourful, both meticulous and grand.
I wholeheartedly recommend Jesse Blackadder’s Chasing the Light – it is a moving and assured work of fiction that will leave you quietly inspired, written by an author that deserves greater recognition.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance, Literature, Historical