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The Solitude of Thomas Cave : A Novel
In 1616, as the last warm days dwindle in the north Atlantic, the men on an English whaling ship prepare to head back toward home. But there is one exception among them: the quiet, headstrong Thomas Cave. For Cave has bet the rest of the crew that he can spend a winter on this Arctic island. Alone. His shipmates sail away, the days shorten, and the cold weather moves in. Thomas Cave faces months of darkness, ice, and blizzards. He has nothing to his name except his rations, shelter, and a journal-a record in case he doesn't survive to tell his story. But nothing so threatens the willful sailor as his own mind: he is haunted by the remembrances of another life and a lost love. From his post at the edge of the known world, Cave sees his own past, and begins to reflect on man's relationship with God and the wilderness. A beautiful, ghostly tale, The Solitude of Thomas Cave brings us back to the beginning of the modern world, in a story infused with the violence, power and beauty that define both man and nature. Georgina Harding is the author of two works of non-fiction: Tranquebar: A Season in South India and In Another Europe. She lives in Colchester, England. This is her first novel.
Starred Review. British travel writer Harding (Tranquebar: A Season in South India) makes her fiction debut with this slim, shimmering historical. In 1616, the whaler Heartsease sets out from England, bound for the Greenland coast. During the voyage, the experienced, much-respected Thomas Cave strikes up a friendship with young Thomas Goodlard, the crew's least-experienced member, who is another Suffolk native. As winter approaches, the crew, having loaded up on whale oil and other tradestuffs, prepares to leave, but a friendly disagreement among them--about whether a human being had ever wintered on the Svalbard coast--darkens and escalates. In a charged moment, Thomas Cave bets �100 that he can survive the winter alone on an uninhabited island. They leave him, with plenty of provisions, to return the following spring. This cold-weather Robinson Crusoe tale (minus Friday) unfolds with spare grace, along with Thomas Cave's past, which includes a lost wife and lost son. In a free and direct style that touches on period dialect but is never heavy-handed (and that is bookended by two first-person remembrances from Thomas Goodlard dated 1640), Harding probes Cave's solitude and his responses to a landscape that, in a heartbeat, can be unrelentingly bleak or dazzling. It's a simple story of spiritual purification, and it is handled beautifully throughout. (Feb.)
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Bloomsbury Publishing USA
February 03, 2007
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