Study Guide

The White Darkness Madness

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He does hate mobile phones, I know—says they interfere with signals in the brain. […] Grudgingly he passed me the phone and the attachment he'd invented to protect his brain from it—a plastic funnel with the spout cut out. (3.20)

Very early in the book, we readers begin to suspect that Uncle Victor is absolutely cuckoo. It takes Sym a lot longer to come around to the idea, though—not because she's mad, too, but because girl lives in major denial.

The two halves of the mobile phone had come apart, spilling the SIM card out of its slot. Victor picked it up and, with the air of a naughty schoolboy, tipped back his head, opened his mouth, and dropped the SIM card into his gullet […]. (3.75)

Sym laughs her head off when Uncle Victor eats his SIM card. But there's something disturbing about this scene. Responsible guardians don't usually destroy their mobile phones before a big trip, right?

This lion-maned Viking…was actually in awe of a cuddly Yorkshireman who favors nightshirts and for years has collected, in a Jacobs Cream Cracker tin under the bed, the pith of all the oranges he eats. (8.14)

A tin of orange piths under the bed is not exactly a hallmark of mental health. Is Uncle Victor a harmless hoarder? Or is this a sign of something more sinister? We're thinking it's the latter.

I did not want to remember: Dad drinking his way through the Christmas wine, the chocolate liqueurs, the cider vinegar. Trying to drown the rats he said were nesting in his skull. (10.39)

Sym's dad went mad before his death and it seems like it was a pretty brutal descent to witness. Of course, it turns out he was being poisoned by Uncle Victor, not losing his mind organically.

It was crammed with page after page of mathematical calculations […]. The writing, sprawling at the start, became smaller and smaller from page to page, as if Victor realized he might run out of space. (10.85)

Uh-oh. A diary filled with tiny writing and weird calculations? Classic mental health crisis accessory. But when Sym finds it among Uncle Victor's things, she doesn't seem too alarmed.

I've often wondered: Is madness hereditary? Or can you catch it from dirty toilet seats? (11.2)

Haunted by her father's break with reality—he lost his mind before he died—Sym sometimes questions her own sanity. Seems like a perfectly reasonable concern.

"So you poisoned them," I said, trying to sound as if the logic of it was plain for all to see. (15.33)

Uncle Victor isn't just mad; he's also a murderer. Sym realizes she needs to be careful in questioning him. Who knows how he'll respond…

"To my way of thinking, their science will be more advanced. Politics, too. Meritocracy, wouldn't be surprised. If my projections are right, it won't be a bad place to raise nippers." (18.52)

When Victor tells Sym he wants her to live among the alien race that's indigenous to the other world within their world, she is… skeptical. And alarmed. And alone with him in the middle of nowhere. Gulp.

Victor believes in it because he wants it so much to be there. He's mad. He probably has been mad for years. (19.90)

Sym finally admits, without qualification, that Victor is bananas. It's about time. Unfortunately for Sym, he hasn't just been mad for years—he's been an influential figure in her life for years, too. Which means she's been told a whole heap of nonsense.

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