Context: Started selling off stuff in preparation for moving out. Someone bought the house we’re renting. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted…
This was an unexpected page-turner. I picked this up from the local high school who were selling off discarded library books. Why on earth they discarded this I cannot think. Not only is it part of the very limited pantheon of Australian classics (and we have lots of Australians here) with its great insight into early white Aussie history, it’s a very good read. Still, their loss = my gain.
There’s a lot of the influence of Les Miserables meets The Count of Monte Cristo here (although I do say that having read neither of them). A man is arrested for a wrong he did not commit and, for the sake of others, conceals his identity. He is transported and suffers the most hideous betrayals so that the life you thought could get no worse, gets successively worse throughout the novel. Along the way, many profit at the expense of his misfortune. Some are regarded as criminal for this, others are deceived into being thought as worthy of esteem in their own right. And the full spectrum of religion is on view, from the repulsive hypocrisy of the so-called Rev Meekin to the only too self-aware Rev North.
So, that’s the literary structure out of the way, which makes for a good story in itself. But what makes this a very good book are Clarke’s detailed descriptions of penal servitude and suffering. Many of the tales told of his characters are in fact based on true stories which my version referenced in an appendix. Some of them appear incredible and provide real life responses to critics I’ve read online who state that some of the story is perhaps a little too laden with serendipity.
I did not find it so. The characters captivated me in much the same way that Golding’s Rites of Passage did recently. And the story kept me going chapter after chapter: some of the descriptions of the attempted escapes are very vivid with the landscape, probably the harshest gaoler of all, playing a significant part. The ending I thought absolutely appropriate. However, I did read that, for versions published in the US, it was cheered up a bit for those who, preferring the indescribably awful writing of Radcliffe, read in order to escape reality rather than try to come to terms with it. I don’t think Clarke would have approved based on the response of Rev. North at one point which I’ve reproduced as a quote below.
So, in summary, this book surprised me with its rich detail and pace of its story telling. On top of that, I was also surprised by the way the novel connected with me personally. One of the most brutal places to be placed in the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement was none other than Grummet Island. I’ve searched the web in vain for how this tiny outcrop of rock got it’s name. I’d love to know: my surname is Grummitt. Also, at one point, Rev. North says “I never walk without a book.” Well, my word! If that isn’t a quote to illustrate the entire purpose of Arukiyomi, I don’t know what is.
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