The White Voyage – John Christopher

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A Danish cargo ship with a few passengers meets bad weather during a short voyage.

I started reading John Christopher a long time ago – maybe with The Lotus Caves (soon to be a film?) or with The Prince in Waiting, both books that opened my eyes to a whole different kind of writing than I’d seen to that point. I read The Prince in Waiting not too long after it came out, and for all its YA focus, it may have been the most adult thing I’d read to that point, with its hero forced to confront life’s harsh realities outside his comfortable life. I still love those books.

It’s just as well I didn’t start with The White Voyage, a much more adult book in which things happen slowly and deliberately, even as reader and characters all see disaster looming larger and larger with each passing hour. The characters are well-drawn, but lack distinctive voices; even the stubborn, resolute captain takes some time to show a difference from his more romantic first mate. Christopher (who I only now learn was really Sam Youd), did better with his young adult characters, to be honest.

This adult book has a fair helping of philosophical introspection about the nature of life, destiny, and purpose. Some of it is absorbing and interesting; some seems misplaced and dry. What keeps the book gripping despite its somber nature is the impending doom that’s clearly signaled from page one – even from the title. It’s a ghastly, fascinating slow-motion crash that, for all its romantic concerns, does little to spare the reader’s emotions.

If you only know Christopher from his young adult books, be warned: this is different. This is a thoroughly adult book, though a less effective one than his best YA. Its a dark and effective look at certainty and its costs. Worth taking a look at, to see a different side of the John Christopher you think you know.

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