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
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge
Available from Fishpond: From the Wreck