A father's obsession. A daughter's quest.
Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.
When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.
Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.
Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.
Jock Serong’s novels have received the Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction, the Colin Roderick Award and the inaugural Staunch Prize (UK). He lives with his family on Victoria’s far west coast.
‘There is some kind of magic in the way Jock Serong conjures places and times and people. The Burning Island is a ripping yarn of a book; sometimes while reading I’d be sunk so deep in its adventures, and in the precision of captured moments, that if interrupted I’d rise to the surface blinking, reluctant and surprised.’ Lucy Treloar
Five novels so far for Jock Serong, all of them excellent
Australian. Lawyer turned features writer, who lives on the far southwest coast of Victoria. This is his fifth novel. He also edits a literary magazine called Great Ocean Quarterly. Mr Serong’s first three novels were set in contemporary times. The most recent, Preservation (2018), was set in the early years of white settlement in Australia, and involves shipwreck survivors who make it back to Sydney after a long ordeal during which a number of them perished. The incident was investigated by Lt Joshua Grayling, and is based on actual events, I believe.
Move ahead 30 years and Joshua Grayling’s unmarried early thirties daughter Eliza is caring for him and wants to know his secrets, especially to understand an old enmity left over from Preservation. When the old boy, who is a nearly blind drunkard, decides to head out on a little boat again in search of answers, she decides she’d better tag along, owl and pussycat style. The boat is called the Moonbird. It isn’t pea green. Stuff happens.
The main storyline is a tad thin, but Mr Serong writes so beautifully that it hardly matters. There are some reasonably interesting subplots and the evocation of the period is excellent. It helps to have read Preservation first, but it’s not essential.
Worthwhile read although Preservation was better, better than The Secret River too IMHO. That having been said, I prefer Mr Serong’s more contemporary efforts.
Slow start but redeemed itself with a twist
This was my first read from this author. Usually I am not a massive fan of this writing perspective, leaning more to third person styles. The story started slowly and I felt at times it was focusing on things that were not relevant. As such, I found the main character a little underdeveloped and confused. I could also not see where the story was taking me in amongst what seemed like pointless introductions.
However, about two thirds in I was a bit hooked and the story took a turn, proving to be hard to put down as the story unfolded. The characters weaved in on her journey were fascinating, and I was really intrigued by Terenoerer (who I wish was introduced much earlier!).
The slow start and style is why I have rated three stars, as the ending was enjoyable.