In the 18th century, the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler surmised that Earth “wobbles” ever so slightly as it spins around the sun. “Yes, wobbles,” thinks Simon at the beginning of Sackville’s gorgeous debut novel, which won the U.K.’s prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys literary prize in 2010. “An absurd and undignified word for the truth. The Earth is not constant on her axis.”
We pretend otherwise, of course, if only for the purposes of navigation. Simon’s wife, Julia, seems to have another reason for holding fast to the idea of the world having a “still point.” Because if there is a place on the planet where the ground does not move beneath our feet, perhaps it is possible for human relationships—always so shifting and unpredictable—to stay constant. Julia is the great-grand-niece of Edward Mackley, a British sea captain determined to be the first person to stand on that supposedly still point at the top of the world. At the turn of the 20th century, he left his brand-new bride, Emily, in England, as he set off for the North Pole. “I will reach it, and I will come back to you,” Edward whispered every night after they parted. “I will wait,” Emily replied from oceans away.
This is the story that Julia commits herself to archiving as she sifts through the diary discovered on Edward’s frozen corpse some 60 years following his departure. On the haziest of summer afternoons, Julia floats between Edward’s written record and what she conceives of his visceral experience, channelling his view of a “place of phantom land and phosphorescence… a different sphere, nearer perhaps to heaven. No tumult of angels, no rush toward glory, but just that stillness, the dark sapphire immensity with its doubling moons and silver lights.” The North possibly made a poet of Edward, but it certainly made a spinster of his wife, and as Julia moons for the impossibility of a passion frozen in time, she risks missing out on her own very real—if wobbly—love life.