REVIEW: From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

In brief: George survives a shipwreck in 1859, but struggles with his life afterwards as an otherworldly creature becomes part of the family, whether he likes it or not.

The good: The writing is beautiful, evocative and enigmatic.

The not-so-good: The scientist in me tried too hard to figure out a plausible explanation for the Mark.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Readings– this book is one of the shortlisted titles for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.

Year: 2017

Pages: 267

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Setting: South Australia

Rating: 8 out of 10

From the cover alone, you just know that From the Wreck is going to be eerie and possibly sad. What the cover doesn’t tell you is that there will be a strange kind of beauty combined with history, family and loss. This is a novel that contains many themes and several genres between its pages, but somehow it just all works together. The prose is rhythmical and enveloping, drawing you in to the tale of George Hills (who happens to be an ancestor of the author).

George is working towards marrying his sweetheart, but is also having a good time working aboard the steamship Admella. But this drip is doomed as it sinks off the coast of South Australia. For a number of days, a few survivors cling to life in whatever way possible, cold, thirsty and hungry. Their minds and actions go beyond what they thought possible and normal. (It was at this point I was reminds of Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves, but I think Jayne Rawson captures the devastation of realising what may be required for survival in a much more haunting way). But George goes on, marries and has a family. But at the point of the shipwreck a new being clings to George and later his son Henry. What is it? Henry thinks of it as his Mark (the rest of the family thinks it is a birthmark) while George believes he is haunted by a woman he was with on the wreck. Except that he is certain she isn’t a woman, but a witch, spirit, siren or higher being. George becomes consumed by the need to remove Henry’s mark and rid himself of his cursing. But what does the Mark have to say about it?

The Mark speaks to the reader directly at times during the novel. It’s never quite clear who or what it is (this really frustrated me at times as I like to know exactly what’s going on and find a plausible, scientific explanation for everything!). The Mark has the ability to live in the depths of the sea, like a sea anemone, but it’s lonely. What it once knew is gone. Yet it’s at home living on Henry and can shape shift. It’s capable of thought and feelings. Is it an alternate life force from another planet? Perhaps. Is it a figment of George’s and Henry’s imagination? Unlikely as the pair are like chalk and cheese. Henry is fascinated by biology but is a typical little boy with worries and fears. George is trying to work through his own problems, but ultimately too he is just a man.

There are so many thoughts, questions and speculations that arise on reading From the Wreck. It questions family ties and spirituality, in addition to the Victorian ways of doing things. George is clearly experiencing PTSD yet no one else knows how to reach out (other than to tell him to stop drinking). The belief in the spiritual is seen with the ruse a woman tries to put over George. And there’s the acceptance of the Mark by Henry and George.

From the Wreck is definitely thought provoking, combining historical fiction with an element of science fiction in a wonderfully written, captivating story.

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Add yours

  1. Great review of a wonderful title. I am often like you, always trying to figure things out. But in this case, perhaps because of Rawson’s beguiling prose, I was just able to go with it. Definitely one of my top reads of 2017.

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