Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck was shortlisted for the 2017 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.
From the Wreck Synopsis:
From the Wreck tells the remarkable story of George Hills, who survived the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. Haunted by his memories and the disappearance of a fellow survivor, George’s fractured life is intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, seeking refuge on Earth. This is a novel imbued with beauty and feeling, filled both with existential loneliness and a deep awareness that all life is interdependent.
‘It’s hard to find the right words to praise this novel. I think we need a whole new critical vocabulary to be invented. Rawson recreates a vanished historical world with utterly convincing characters as well as inhabits the mind of a cephalopod alien and make us feel, in both cases, yes, that’s exactly how it is. Jane Rawson’s writing is mysterious, chilling and tender. The book is a sort of miracle.’ — Lian Hearn
From the Wreck‘s synopsis has to rate as one of the most unusual I have come across in the literary genre. But Rawson does more than ‘pull-off’ this lofty creative and artistic challenge… in her deft hands this concept soars.
From the Wreck‘s building blocks, alternating first person character narratives, are fascinating. And none more so than that of the life-form from another dimension:
So many creatures were bigger than we were, and so many had more teeth. But we were built for thinking, for making, for talking. We could squeeze into any space. We could shift into any shape. And that was who we were and what we did: we didn’t fight the others to be bigger, fiercer, more toothy. We were evidently us.
For me the mark of great literature is its capacity to expose audiences to viewpoints different from their own, and in so doing broaden their thinking. Both the originality and credibility of the different perspectives in this novel — from shipwreck survivor, to inquisitive child, to shape-shifting alien — and the intimacy cultivated between character and reader is truly impressive.
The historical setting of late 19th century South Australia is beautifully rendered. The spirit of change and endeavour amongst the largely migrant population and burgeoning scientific thought at that time is the microcosm from which Rawson explores a wealth of universal themes. Of these, most memorable for me was the interdependence of all life, and the power of not just understanding but accepting and embracing the differences of others and our true selves.
There were creatures — tiny, so many — a swarm of them struggling and fighting and out of them came babies and blood and all the heat of that one warm star turn to grass and to muscle and to life.
Teeth tearing throats. The guts of a rabbit are the eyes of a newborn dingo pup are the food that fuels the towering termite nest are the shade where a small skink rests. …
The disease that devoured one and passed over another. The rat’s little body all thick with ants. The apple cores food for worms. All of it, life. The great joyous throb of it.
I am loathe to reveal too many story elements because, as in life, the value lies in the journey rather than the destination.
Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck is something special — confronting, haunting and life-affirming. Like its Miles Franklin award-winning stablemate Black Rock White City, this deceptively insightful novel defies genre categorisation and is deserving of the highest critical recognition.
I challenge you not to be mesmerised by its charm and brutality.
UPDATE: We have since also been impressed by Rawson’s debut novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists.
BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Mystery, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Drama, Historical
About the Author, Jane Rawson
Jane Rawson is a writer and a bureaucrat who lives in Melbourne’s west. She has written three books of fiction — From the Wreck (2017), Formaldehyde (2015) and A wrong turn of the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) — and a non-fiction guide, The Handbook: surviving & living with climate change (2015), co-authored with James Whitmore. Her work has won the 2015 Viva la Novella Prize and the 2014 Most Underrated Book Award.
She was formerly the Environment and Energy Editor for news website, The Conversation.
Other reviews of From the Wreck
* My receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.