The Solitude of Thomas Cave, by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury, 2007) is a cold, brooding novel; not surprising, perhaps, considering that the main portion of the book occurs during a Greenland winter in 1616-17. Thomas Cave, a sailor from the ship Heartsease, takes a wager from a shipmate that no man could survive a solitary winter on the desolate coast of Greenland - with supplies from the ship, Cave sets up camp and prepares to wait a full year for the ship's return.
The months of loneliness are a fertile ground for Cave's memories, which stray often to a lost wife and child. He hunts polar bears when he can, but otherwise hunkers down to wait out the battering storms and anticipate the return of sunshine. Accompanied by comments by Thomas Goodlard, a young sailor on Heartsease who sees Cave as the bet begins and in its aftermath, Harding's novel is a beautiful reminder of the nature of solitude in the human mind. Written sparingly, but brilliantly, this is a short book, but one which deserves much attention.