Who is the third who walks ALWAYS beside you?
The White Road, a tale of terror and suspense by South African Sarah Lotz is inspired in great part by this line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Eliot in turn was inspired by the account of Ernest Shackleton who during his traumatic journey through an barren Iceland experienced an ever present sense that some unseen, incorporeal being was present as a comforter and protector. This statement by Shackleton prompted numerous others to come forward with similar experiences in a phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘Third Man’ syndrome.
Lotz takes ‘Third Man Syndrome’ and turns it on its head; what if the spirit with you wasn’t benevolent? What if in fact it meant to destroy you? This is the question that comes to haunt main narrator Simon Newman a self-described Time Waster Extraordinaire and co-founder of a website Journey to the Dark Side that specializes in listicles and footage of ugly, scary things. To that end Simon, went on a tour of the infamous Cwm Pots caves that had been closed off for decades in hopes of finding corpses to film, only to have things go horribly awry thanks to flash flooding and a mentally unstable guide. In the wake of that incident, Simon decides to go to another notorious graveyard; Mount Everest in hopes of finding more dramatic footage. While there though, he has to struggle with low oxygen, his own limitations, as a climber, and buried secrets. Twelve years earlier Juliet Michaels, perished on Mt. Everest leaving behind a journal detailing her belief she was being shadowed by something.
Lotz addresses how real life sites similar to Journey to the Dark Side exploit real life tragedies for entertainment and the slimy moral places Simon’s led to. Lotz is writing in the distinct voices of two very different main characters and pulls them both off beautifully with an incredible attention for detail that makes you feel like you’re breathing the harsh, thin, air of Everest right with the people there. Her characters are well rendered and layered with some unexpected but welcome bits of humor thrown into the mix. Much like the classic short story The Horla by Guy de Maupassant the reader is never sure if what’s being described is delusions by hypoxia and PTSD or something more sinister and supernatural. You’re kept guessing right through until the final pages and the conclusion with linger with you for days and nights to come.
The White Road