VINTAGE BOOK REVIEW: Chasing the Light by Jesse Blackadder

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

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.

My Thoughts:

‘Chasing the ‘Light is a beautifully written novel about Ingrid Christensen, the first woman to ever see Antarctica (and, quite possibly, the first woman to ever set foot there). It’s also about the two women who accompany her there, the grief-wracked Mathilde and the determined and vivacious Lillemor, who is determined she shall be the first – and will stop at virtually nothing to get her way.

Antarctica herself is a character (is it wrong to call a continent a ‘she’? Because somehow that vast, mysterious, and dangerous land just seems like a woman to me).

Sorrow and courage and the singing of whales weave their way through the story, adding poetry and depth – yet the story swings along at a compelling pace, never losing its narrative drive. The novel is not only about the race to be the first woman in Antarctica, but also about friendships, betrayals, and the hidden mysteries of the human heart.

Most stories about Antarctica are about men – explorers and scientists and flawed heroes – and how they seek to imprint their names upon its vast whiteness. ‘Chasing the Light’ illuminated beautifully the real women in history who longed to see its wild beauty for themselves, and who had to struggle against those who felt it wasn’t the place for a lady.

I really loved Jesse’s novel ‘Raven’s Heart’ which was one of my favourite reads last year, and so I was eager to read her latest fictive outing (even though Antarctica is not really one of my things.) Suffice it to say I now have that indefinable longing to go somewhere and see it for myself – I might just have to cruise to the South Pole myself one day!

You might also like to read my review of The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder:

Kate Forsyth
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