Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 6, 2017

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson #BookReview


I should know better than to start reading a book by Jane Rawson late at night…

From the Wreck is such an unsettling novel … I tried turning the light out half way through and inevitably I found myself tossing the scenario around wondering – worrying! how it might resolve itself.   The catalyst for the book was the story of Rawson’s great-great-grandfather who spent eight days stuck on a reef when the steamship Admella was wrecked, but this is not like any family history I have ever read.

George Hills is rescued, only to be haunted by the horrors of those dying around him.  He has memories of the mysterious woman who was with him when after numerous attempts the lifeboat finally reached him, and she knows what the survivors did in their desperation.  While she seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, George feels her otherworldly presence all the time.

His torment is mirrored by hers.  She is a being from another world, seeking refuge on Earth after a catastrophe.  A shape-shifter who can adapt to different life forms, she has been searching without success for her fellow beings and her loneliness is palpable.  In her desperation she attaches herself to George’s son Henry in the form of a birthmark, and with her companionship he grows to be a strange little boy with odd caprices.  He calls her Mark.  Playfully, Rawson makes this being’s name for people ‘uprights’.   If only we were…

Rawson, as I have said before, is a genius at characterisation of the sad, lonely and vulnerable.  I have used the female pronoun for this being, because her first manifestation is as Bridget Ledwith, but her gender is as fluid as her identity:

I am wet, shaken and stretched.  I am angry, scared. I am here all alone again alone alone alone. I am so sick of all this, this stupid world of running and hiding and hiding and running and pretending to be someone I am not and never have been.

Here where there is no place for me.  Where there is no one I know and no one cares if I live or die. Don’t get me started on Henry, he would be stupider and narrower without me and that would make him far, far happier than he is today.  If he never sees me again he will live like a normal boy and grow up into a healthy man and take his place in the great parade of stomping.

Perhaps if I had made myself into a man instead of a woman.  But what did I know?  Nothing. I knew nothing then and not much more now. Ten years, eleven, twelve, whatever it’s been of hour after hour living the life of a small boy.  (p.251)

Contemporary issues seem to bleed from beyond the page into this artful blend of an authentic historical world and the fantastic, demanding our empathy.  Refugees stranded on offshore islands where no one cares if they live or die.  LGBTI kids pretending to be someone they are not and never have been.  Abandoned children, feckless parents.  The world of this novel is only too familiar and yet there is humour too, and a light touch with some of George’s more risible attempts to locate his shadowy woman.

A strange and mysterious novel, From the Wreck is oddly compelling.  I have a feeling that I still be thinking about it for a while, but hey! It’s 3:30AM and time to try turning the light out again.

BTW Jane Rawson has a piece in the latest Griffith Review focussed on South Australia.  It’s called State of Hope.   More about that later.

Author: Jane Rawson
Title: From the Wreck
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2017
ISBN: 9780995359451
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge

Available from Fishpond: From the Wreck


  1. I was thinking this sounded a good one and then the antennae started twitching when I read your description ” She is a being from another world,…” I’m useless with books that have magical/fantastical elements……..

  2. I don’t think I’ve written this before, but I’ll read your review when I’ve read the book. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

    • I remember reading something somewhere about how she was writing a C19th novel with surreal elements and thinking, how will that work… and here it is. It works. I think you will like it:)

  3. I hadn’t caught up with the fact that this was out. I do like the way her mind works, so must try to get to it.

    • She is a master of characterisation. I mean, she got me to care about a sort of cephalopod!

      • Haha Lisa… And what’s not to like about a Cephalopod I ask!?

        BTW why did autocorrect or predictive text think my attempt to type “about” was really intended to be”a boy utility”? That thing has a mind of its own.

        • Gosh, that auto correct is dangerous!

          • It can give me a laugh at times – though not so much if I don’t catch it before I comment on a blog that’s not mine and I therefore can’t edit!

            • Yup, I hate that too. OTOH it’s a good thing that I have learned the hard way to re-read my comments, it’s saved me making a few hasty remarks here and there…

              • Yes, I need to get better at re-reading my comments. It’s mostly when I comment using my iPad. Much better to wait until I get to my laptop really, but when I’m travelling in particular it’s only the iPad that I often have – and then it’s on for young and old! Haha.

  4. […] climate.  Amongst the fiction is an excerpt from Jane Rawson’s new novel From the Wreck (see my review); there is also poetry from Ali Cobby Eckerman; a moving memoir by Tracy Crisp about the impact of […]

  5. […] […]

  6. […] Lisa at ANZ Lit Lovers was kept awake thinking about the book, so take that as a warning (this isn’t the first time I’ve interrupted her sleep and I probably owe her a sedative glass or two of wine in compensation). […]

  7. I’ve read it now, my review out in the morning. Loved it of course! I don’t mention characterisation at all,but you’re right the characters are well done, interesting and believable. (as for turning the light out at 3.30, I have to get up at 3.45 to drive my FIFO ex wife to the airport).

    • I thought you’d like it… it’s getting good reviews everywhere and everyone seems to take something different from it.
      3.45? That reminds me of the days when the offspring was working in the west and he would catch the red-eye flight home for Christmas, and I’d have to go and pick him up because there was no PT at that time of the morning.

  8. […] #NoddingMyHead I’m thinking about Jane Rawson’s genre-blending latest, From the Wreck, see my review.] In another[area], the boundaries of genre are rigidly enforced by publishers, academics, […]

  9. […] the Wreck by Jane Rawson, see my review […]

  10. […] have brought us last year’s Miles Franklin winner Black Rock White City by Alec Patric and From the Wreck by Jane Rawson, and a stack of other beaut titles as […]

  11. […] From the Wreck by Jane Rawson, (see my review) […]

  12. […] From the Wreck (Jane Rawson, Transit Lounge), see my review […]

  13. […] Jane Rawson: From the Wreck (Transit Lounge) see my review […]

  14. […] Jane Rawson’s From the wreck (Transit Lounge) (on my TBR Lisa has reviewed) […]

  15. […] to drop names here with a shout out to authors I caught up with at the festival: Jane Rawson (From the Wreck); Michelle Scott Tucker (Elizabeth Macarthur), Jenny Ackland (Little Gods) and Georgina Arnott […]

  16. […] Jane Rawson, From the Wreck see my review […]

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