All the White Spaces

By Ally Wilkes

All the White Spaces, a novel by Ally Wilkes
Book details

There are places on the planet that are scary enough on their own. You would never find me plunging the depth of the deepest oceans or spending the night in an abandoned greenhouse somewhere in a wild forest. There are dangers aplenty without any monsters, ghoulies or manifestations. Add to this list Antarctica. I am not the type of person to have shackled myself to Shackleton on a race to the South Pole. The icy cold, the hunger, the thirst, the fissures. In Ally Wilkes’ All the White Spaces an expedition must deal with all these and something else that may be out there on the ice. 

The Great War has ended and many of the young men that went off to fight never came back. This happened to Jonathan’s two brothers. They dreamed of joining the famed explorer Randall on his next attempt at reaching the South Pole. In homage to the lost siblings, Jonathan stows away with the help of a friend finding themselves in an icebound Weddell Sea. The challenges begin to pile up for the crew, on both sea and land. Do they stay on the ship or take a chance on the ice with the visions that appear to be drawing men away from the pack? 

There are many layers to White Spaces which make for an intriguing read. Listed as horror, you may be expecting something akin to The Thing, but this books instead plays with the horror of the mind. There is no need to reveal a monster quickly when the time and place fill the characters with horror enough. Post WW1, many in society became drawn to the occult to try and understand the horror of the mass deaths. So many lost, so many lives ruined. Jonathan is already suffering from the pain of losing two brothers, add the setting of Antarctica and the body is challenged, and the mind insular. 

I enjoyed the bleeding of the real with the unreal. It is not an easy technique to pull off in fiction, but Wilkes has chosen the perfect location to attempt it. Even in a normal world, the Antarctic will play with a person’s mind. However, this is not a normal world and as the book progresses the supernatural elements comes to the fore and a survival that seems improbable now feels impossible. 

Genre fans should bear in mind that this book is as much a character study and story of the Golden Age of Exploration as it is horror. Wilkes has written a fictionalised version of an expedition that feels real. There is more drama in places, Jonathan has a secret that plays on the characters actions and, of course, the supernatural. However, it is also a good study of the time. The pacing reflects the long journey to the South Pole and the book is a meaty one. This is great for those that love a slow build up as the tension rises. Fans of punchier horror will be left wondering why they need to know so much about the running of an early 20th century ship. 

As someone who has read non-fiction accounts of exploration, I enjoyed this aspect of the book, and it gave the fictionalised parts of the book an air of legitimacy. A reader can question whether any visions or spectres in the book are a reflection of a mind broken by the stress, or real. Wilkes captures the horror and tension of a 1920’s group of explorers setting out into the unknown. This is scary enough, any horrors on top are a bonus.  

Written on 25th January 2022 by .

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