Se­quel shows its met­tle

Fol­lowup to clas­sic is a mast-read

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - RICHARD SHERBANIUK

This novel, by Bri­tain’s for­mer poet lau­re­ate Sir An­drew Mo­tion, is a se­quel to one of the great­est ac­tion ad­ven­ture sto­ries of all time, Robert Louis Steven­son’s Trea­sure Is­land, a book revered by other authors from Hem­ing­way to Borges to Nabokov.

Ev­ery­thing that read­ers and movie au­di­ences re­flex­ively as­so­ciate with the word “pi­rate” comes from that 1883 lit­er­ary trea­sure. Johnny Depp was good as Cap­tain Jack Sparrow, but what sears the mem­ory is Robert New­ton, with his deep West Coun­try ac­cent, fever­ishly de­vour­ing ev­ery scene of the great 1950 film as Cap­tain Long John Sil­ver.

The ti­tle of Mo­tion’s se­quel has a dou­ble mean­ing: it refers to Sil­ver the pi­rate, and to his ob­ses­sion with the bars of sil­ver, the last half of Cap­tain Flint’s booty, that were left be­hind on Trea­sure Is­land. The story it­self is set a gen­er­a­tion af­ter the orig­i­nal ad­ven­ture. It in­volves the blind and rav­ing Sil­ver, near death, send­ing his teenage daugh­ter Natty to contact young Jim, the son of the first story’s hero, Jim Hawkins, now a drunken tav­ern owner. She is to con­vince Jim to steal his fa­ther’s map of Trea­sure Is­land, and then re­trieve the sil­ver bars.

This is fab­u­lous ma­te­rial and Mo­tion, who has called the orig­i­nal story “a corner­stone of my imag­i­na­tion,” cranks it for all it’s worth. The ac­tion scenes are ter­rific, the pulse pounds, and by pro­vid­ing Jim with a love in­ter­est in Natty, the story is deep­ened not only by their grow­ing af­fec­tion for each other but also by Natty’s de­cid­edly am­bigu­ous feel­ings to­ward her fe­ro­cious fa­ther.

Mo­tion’s is an ex­cel­lent novel. But it’s like writ­ing a se­quel to, say, Casablanca; beads of blood ap­pear on the au­thor’s brow as he tries to match or im­prove on per­fec­tion. This is an ob­ser­va­tion, not a criticism — the only thing wrong with Mo­tion’s book is that it wasn’t writ­ten by Steven­son. Vic­to­rian nov­el­ist Sir Ed­ward Bul­wer-Lyt­ton said “Tal­ent does what it can; ge­nius does what it must.” Mo­tion’s novel is very en­joy­able on its own mer­its. But Steven­son was a ge­nius, and the dif­fer­ence shows.

Steven­son’s great­est sto­ries (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) came to him in fever dreams and in­spired not only a sprint­ing pen (he wrote the first 15 chap­ters of Trea­sure Is­land in 15 days) but great ur­gency and econ­omy of style. This is what Mo­tion’s se­quel most lacks. His pri­mary vo­ca­tion is as a poet, af­ter all, and he is soft and lush where Steven­son is spare to the point of be­ing skele­tal.

But Mo­tion’s se­quel is a great novel, ex­cit­ing, beau­ti­fully writ­ten, well worth the price, and a great sum­mer read. Sil­ver by An­drew Mo­tion (Dou­ble­day Canada, 416 pages, $32)

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