All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes
Titan, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
When the First World War takes Jonathon Morgan’s older brothers from him, he takes on their dream to explore Antarctica’s frozen secrets as part of an expedition crew led by the famous explorer James ‘Australis’ Randall. Away from the stifling confines of his family home, Jonathon Morgan learns who he really is and what he is capable of. But the expedition is cursed from the beginning, with strange sightings on the ship and unexplained accidents plaguing the crew. When they land, the journey is no better. The season is wrong, and the weather is worse than expected. Injury and death pick off the crew one by one, driving them mad, and there is no hope for rescue. Has Jonathon discovered enough about himself to survive the ghosts in the wilderness?
Ghosts thrive in the cold and dark, and nowhere is colder or darker than Antarctica, where there is no sun during the winter months. Add in unforgiving terrain, limited resources, grief and survivor guilt, and Wilkes has created the perfect environment for a truly spine chilling yarn. All the White Spaces starts bleakly with news of the deaths of Jonathon’s brothers, Rufus and Francis, and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Conflict and hardship set the story’s pace with no respite for the expedition or us readers.
The war and views of masculinity overshadow the whole story, exploring themes of gender identity, sexuality and self, all sensitively and honestly handled. Jonathon’s brothers overshadow both Jonathon and the family friend, Harry, who survived the war that claimed the brothers. Although Jonathon and Harry have taken this journey to honour Rufus and Francis’s sacrifice, Jonathon retains his own identity. However, Harry labours under survivor guilt and the need to protect the last Morgan sibling. This is echoed by Randell, stuck in the past and drowning in guilt, and Tarlington, a war objector who remains true to his beliefs. In the end, Jonathon realises strength lies in knowing yourself rather than hiding behind testosterone-fueled acts of aggression and bravado.
The supernatural element is well-crafted, brought in over a series of events easily explained as the consequences of Jonathon’s trauma and, later, the expedition’s hardships. Wilkes uses the environment, weather and PTSD as individual forces coming together to create something as sinister as any ghost or nameless evil entity. She keeps us on our toes throughout, and even at the end, not every incident falls into the neat category of real evil or a troubled mind, leaving us wondering what horrors were manmade and which were supernatural.
All the White Spaces is a perfect combination of environment, setting, and contemporary views, producing a claustrophobic, paranoid ghost story guaranteed to keep you watching the shadows all night. An absolute must for all horror fans.