CHASING THE LIGHT by Jesse Blackadder, Book Review

Based on the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica, in Chasing the Light Jesse Blackadder has captured the drama, danger and magnetic pull of exploring uncharted places in our world and our minds.

Jesse Blackadder Chasing the Light Review

Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica 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.

(HarperCollins Australia)

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance, Literature, Historical

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One day I went into a bookstore and my eyes were inexplicably drawn to Chasing the Light’s 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, the females are the driving force in Chasing the Light. All three women on the expedition are subtly and carefully developed, yielding individuality and depth of persona not often achieved in fiction. All displayed different qualities I found endearing in some way, but 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 this novel is one of the strongest and most compelling I have read — the position of women in society at the time skilfully conveyed through the characters’ colourful back-stories. If this work has a fault, it is that this level of intensity and aplomb was not sustained throughout. While powerful descriptions of events and uncensored relay of character’s thoughts remained, their delivery lacked some of the earlier poise.

I particularly admired how Blackadder has avoided the cliche of denigrating male characters as a means to elevate the females. Her telling applies a measured lens to the strengths and weaknesses of all. Due in large part to this, along with the author’s obvious passion for research, 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; 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, and just like its subject matter, deserves greater recognition.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5  / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Get your copy of Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica from:

Amazon Booktopia AU

About the Author, Jesse Blackadder

An award-winning Australian author of novels for adults and kids, an emerging screenwriter, a public speaker, literacy advocate, and a freelance journalist. Check out Jesse Blackadder’s website.

Other books by Jesse Blackadder include The Raven’s Heart, Stay: The Last Dog in Antarctica, Sixty Seconds

Other reviews of Chasing the Light

The Newtown Review of BooksKate ForsythThe Age

* This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2013 and the Australian Women Writers Challenge.