Novel: Mat Johnson: Pym (Spiegel & Grau, 2011)
Mat Johnson’s Pym is a stellar example of what an Antarctic novel can be. It’s the story of a black American university man preoccupied with Edgar Allan Poe and issues of race. He gets sacked from his university for failing to serve in the diversity committee, and decides to explore the truth of Poe’s novel The Narrative Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in Antarctica. To understand racial oppression it’s necessary to understand whiteness, and what could be more white than Antarctica?
Pym is a very funny, very smart book. Johnson writes with a wonderful awareness of the Antarctic literary tradition and his take on issues of racism and race is deftly articulated. The best Antarctic novels often use the continent as a tool to explore a theme or an issue, and that’s what Johnson does very well here.