Title: From the Wreck
Author: Jane Rawson
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Transit Lounge
Published: 1st March, 2017
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.
From the Wreck is inspired by the family history of Jane Rawson, and her great-great grandfather, who survived a shipwreck – the Admella, a steam ship that sunk off the coast of South Australia in 1859 – and the family he created afterwards. George is haunted through the book by the memories of those who died around him, and the strange woman – seemingly unearthly, and her presence around his son, Henry, born several years later. It is Henry that seems marked by the encounter with the woman, who entered George and Eliza’s house when Henry was born.
Years pass, and George continues to be haunted by the events surrounding the shipwreck and the strange woman who has simply disappeared, and whom nobody can find or recall. George starts to take his anguish out on his son, who yearns for knowledge, and feels rejection at his father’s anguish that stems from his experiences on the sea.
The woman who saved George, a being from another world, also feels anguish – she is displaced and unsure of where she is, lost, ripped away from her world in an unknown place – pre-Federation Australia. The anguish each feels mirrors each other throughout the novel, which tells George and Henry’s story in third person, and the mystical being’s story in first person. An unusual combination, I felt that it worked for this novel, and allowed the reader to explore the psyches of each character involved in a different way, and how they were connected to each other and the impending tragedy that would shake everyone involved to the core, and came as a shock whilst reading – a powerful shock that ensured I kept reading to see how it was all resolved.
From the Wreck is Jane Rawson’s third novel, and an unexpected addition to my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It explores a family history and how tragedy can leave a mark – and not necessarily one that is physical or seen. The being and George are both seeking refuge and sanctuary after catastrophes that ripped them apart in some ways. It is done in an intriguing way, and in turning a mysterious historical figure into something mystical and unexplained for much of the book, utilising the voices of history, and family history, to tell the story.
Jane Rawson’s use of history and her own family history to tell the story with an injection of fantasy allowed the story to flow nicely, and gave it a good grounding, intrigue and rich characters, and positioned it within a historical time and place through the use of words no longer in use today commonly, attitudes towards others and the unknown, and how people dealt with tragedy, and family dynamics that evolved over time.
It was the first Jane Rawson book I have read, and I enjoyed the mystery and history that she wove together. The sense of the unknown can be unsettling but in a way that kept me reading. Historical fiction with a twist, it is an interesting novel and though deeply entrenched in the author’s family history, it is still something that readers of historical fiction may enjoy.
Thank you to Scott Eathorne for contacting me and giving me the chance to read this.
From the Wreck is available online through Angus and Robertson and Booktopia