Rocking the boat
A new spin on the short, busy life of Fletcher Christian.
After an ambitious trilogy of novels that lifted Captain James Cook’s powdered wig and pondered the brilliant nautical mind beneath, Graeme Lay has turned his sights on another 19th-century seafarer.
This time, the Pacific-focused Auckland author is in much less uncharted waters. His entertaining if occasionally stodgy novel Fletcher of the Bounty adds to a vast pile of mutiny chronicles. That includes Anne Salmond’s William Bligh in the South Seas from 2011, which Lay cites in his research material.
But it’s Fletcher Christian’s short, busy life that his book follows from Cumbrian boyhood to the crumbling paradise of Pitcairn.
Lay spends a long time establishing the pre-Bounty master and apprentice relationship of Bligh and Christian. And there is much telegraphing of the younger man’s attributes. He stands up to bullies: he saves schoolmate William Wordsworth – yes, the very one – from a beating. How poetic. When it comes to the womenfolk, he can’t seem to keep it in his breeches.
Less sexy in the book’s first half are its characters’ fact-crammed conversations and correspondence. The exposition can make for starchy reading. The energy picks up, though, as the saga starts swerving around the South Seas, Christian falls for Tahitian woman Mauatua and Bligh, here a paranoiac, starts behaving erratically. Lay imagines a fresh Bligh offence that pushes Christian to revolt.
It all offers plenty to inspire another
Bounty screen saga. Cinematic moments abound, whether it’s Mauatua doing a
Kate Winslet on the Bounty’s prow or its hilariously grim closing image. Episodes like those show that for all the historic rigour, Lay has had some fun giving this ancient mariner a new spin.
FLETCHER OF THE BOUNTY: A Novel, by Graeme Lay (Fourth Estate, $36.99)