Simon Newman maintains a website for thrill seekers, posting videos of extreme or ghoulish situations online. When a caving expedition goes horribly wrong, Simon’s video of his near death experience goes viral. Chasing something big to follow up on this success, Simon finds himself attempting to scale Everest. But the more time passes, the more Simon is haunted by past events. As his present collides with the past, Simon begins to lose his grip on reality in while attempting to stay grounded in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on earth.
Throughout the book, Simon struggles to deal with what happened in the caves and the morality of using the internet to gain fame and success at the expense of others. He has to deal with feelings of grief and guilt, but his reluctance to do so means that his feelings manifest into a self-destructive, wild obsession. He’s not a particularly likable character, but to me this made him feel more real.
Although this is primarily a psychological thriller, there’s a supernatural element that runs through the book. Simon is convinced that there is a sinister figure lurking just out of view, intent on causing him harm. He is haunted by the ghosts of his past and the things that he has done, which take on a physical manifestation that drive him slowly mad. As readers, we’re presented with the facts from his perspective, and we’re left to make up our own minds as to whether these things are really happening or if they are only happening in Simon’s head. Whatever we choose to believe, there is a pervading air of menace and madness that runs through the entire book.
This, combined with the extreme settings that the Simon finds himself in over the course of the novel – from being trapped underground in tunnels that are slowly filling with water, surrounded by the dead and the cold, dark rocks and to scaling the world’s most deadly peak, oppressed by the cold, the altitude and the barren snow swept landscapes – make for an atmospheric and unsettling read. The situation is threatening and claustrophobic – both in reality and in Simon’s head.
I’ve read other books by Lotz in the past and I’ve found them similarly hard to categorise. I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as horror, or as a straight up thriller, but it definitely has many of the elements of both. The White Road is a very different read from everything else I’ve read this year, and although it was creepy and sometimes unsettling, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.