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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925773125
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Book Review: Preservation by Jock Serong - Reviewed by CloggieA (23 Oct 2018)
Preservation is the fourth novel by Award-winning Australian author, Jock Serong. From the archive of a newspaper named The Asiatic Mirror, we know that a tri-masted country trader, the Sydney Cove, filled with goods including quite a lot of rum, left Calcutta in November of 1796, headed for New South Wales on a speculative venture, and was wrecked on Preservation Island in Bass Strait in early 1797. One of those on board, William Clark wrote an incomplete diary, extracts of which were quoted in said newspaper. Serong takes the bare bones of these facts and fleshes them out.
After the wrecking, seventeen men take the longboat, intending to reach Sydney and initiate a rescue of the remaining crew and salvage of the rum cargo. Mere days later this boat, too, is wrecked, and the men, with what goods they have been able to recover, head on foot for Sydney, some five hundred and fifty miles. Not quite three months later, three survivors are picked up by a fishing boat just south of Sydney.
On Governor Hunter’s instruction, Lieutenant Joshua Grayling questions two of the survivors: William Clark, who is supercargo for the shipping company; and Mr Figge, who purports to be a representative of a tea merchant. Srinivas, a Bengali lascar, is Clark’s manservant and assumed to speak no English. Charlotte Grayling listens to her husband’s account of the interrogation of the survivors, asking pertinent questions and offering insightful observations. Each of these five distinct narratives is denoted by its own apt icon both at each start and beside the page count.
It soon becomes apparent that each of these survivors is not being entirely forthcoming, and that Clark’s journal does not give the full facts, even where the facts recorded are actually true. What they are hiding, and why, becomes the object of Grayling’s interviews with the men.
Serong’s characters are much more than one-dimensional, and he gives some of them perceptive reflections: “…not only do they have the run of the land, the miles that might stretch between one man and another, but they put their homes where they want them for the seasons. To be rich, I had thought until then, was a walled place. But now I wondered if being rich meant not needing the wall.” Serong’s depiction of the attitudes of the white settlers to the indigenous people is realistic.
Serong states in his Author’s Note “Perhaps all of this is history, and none of it” so the reader will understand that not all the of the story that follows may align strictly with known facts. But his imagining is both fascinating and eminently believable. He includes three very useful maps and the depth of his research is apparent on every page. Once again, an utterly brilliant read!
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