23 February 2021

Review: THE BURNING ISLAND, Jock Serong

Synopsis (publisher)

A father’s obsession. A daughter’s quest.

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.

Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.

My Take

In a sense this is a sequel to an earlier novel PRESERVATION in which Joshua Grayling was a key character. It involves the same geographic and historical setting - the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, the wreck of a ship and the disappearance of its passengers and cargo, but it is 30 years on, and Joshua Grayling, once assistant to Governor Hunter in the Sydney colony, is no longer the man he was. Now old, blind, and an alcoholic, he has been haunted for over 30 years by the thought of catching up with Master Figge, one of the survivors of the earlier wreck and the author of so much death.

Grayling is asked to undertake a private expedition to Bass Strait to discover what has happened to the Howrah, its passengers and its cargo. Some debris has been found that indicates that it has been wrecked. It is unthinkable that he take this voyage on his own, and so his daughter accompanies him. They arrive at the boat the Moonbird to discover that there is a paying passenger, doctor/scientist who will be studying birds and fish.

The Furneaux group in Bass Strait is largely populated by sealers who have taken Aboriginal wives, sometimes originally against their wills, and there are half-caste children. And the mad governor of Van Diemen's Land, Governor Arthur, is attempting to purge the main island and the Furneaux group of their Aboriginal population.

The story line didn't hold my interest as much as I would have liked, but that was certainly overlaid with a heap of interesting historical detail and and a wealth of very interesting characters, not the least the master of the Moonbird.

My rating: 4.4 

I've also read


4.6, QUOTA 

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