cover image The Solitude of  Thomas Cave

The Solitude of Thomas Cave

Georgina Harding, Author . Bloomsbury $23.95 (237p) ISBN 978-1-59691-272-4

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.)