There’s mutiny afoot…

“History is written by the winners”

This quote is attributed to either Churchill or perhaps Hermann Göring (the jury is still out!) and it’s pretty accurate – if yours is the only side of the story people hear, then its probably going to be the one that everybody believes. But the not-so-recent rise of fictional accounts of real historical events and significant historical figures has been trying to even the ledger by giving us the other side of the coin!

And we’ve had LOADS of writers contributing to this movement; think Hodd by Adam Thorpe – depicting Robin Hood as an outlaw, a thief, and generally a really bad man; or The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson – exposing John Batman as a scoundrel and murderer with his attempts to control (and/or massacre) the indigenous population of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and Victoria; and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – the courts of King Henry VIII from Cromwell’s view-point.

Each of these stories seeks to expose the “truth” or at least broader context of historical events in whatever form that can take since so long a time has passed…And now there’s a new title to add! In his new book Fletcher of the Bounty, Graeme Lay recounts the story of the mutiny on the Bounty with Fletcher Christian as the central character.

Lay’s skilled storytelling builds a world of contrast, between the confines of life on board a naval vessel adhering to authority and routine, to the freedom and love of life experienced during the time spent in Tahiti, connecting with people from another world and ultimately falling in love with an indigenous girl. He also describes well the slow unravelling of the ship’s commander William Bligh, and demonstrates just how alien he must have seemed while in Tahiti – clinging desperately onto his military ceremonies and brutal disciplines (continuing to wear full dress uniform in the sweltering heat, for example), while at the same time considering himself far superior to all others, crew and islanders both.

The story of the Bounty, one of idealism, betrayal and the resulting struggle to create a Utopian ideal, is familiar to all of us and as far as rewriting the story of the Bounty, the relationship breakdown between Bligh and Christian, and the inevitable mutiny, Lay doesn’t really push any boundaries beyond what we already know. It’s a well written sea-tale/love-story, and it does expand brilliantly on many of the themes dealt with in brief in the 1984 Roger Donaldson film The Bounty, (with the two leading characters played by the greats Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins).

His compelling character-driven narrative is highly descriptive and contextual and if you like a good nautical tale or are a fan of historical fiction then you should get a kick out of this retelling of the tale – I especially like the inclusion of regional languages as the crew travel around the Antipodes. Just don’t expect any new earth-shattering nuggets of insight.

Fletcher of the Bounty
by Graeme Lay
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775541066

And while we’re talking about stories in this vein, here’s a list of other titles that fall under the banner of Hard-Hitting Historical Fiction, explore, read, and enjoy!

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English

This is a true story. This is two stories. It is a history of Timbuktu, a place with myth and legend wrapped around it, and it is the tale of librarians and archivists who worked hard to protect precious manuscripts from destruction.

Cover
The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu details the events of 2012 as Timbuktu (in Mali) comes under the control of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda. Rare manuscripts are under threat. The fear is that these cultural treasures will meet the same fate as historical sites destroyed by the fundamentalists. Archivists and librarians — and in particular Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara — come together and formulate a plan to spirit away manuscripts. They smuggle them out via a network of helpers, concealing and transporting them away by land and sea.

The drama of 2012 alternates with chapters about history and the various explorers who sought after the city of Timbuktu. In 1788, Sir Joseph Banks (naturalist on the Endeavour with Captain Cook) was part of the African Association Committee considering the exploration of Africa. Timbuktu was a golden unknown, and yet this Committee and others had it pegged as a place of great wealth. It became an alluring target for European explorers.

These historical chapters tell us a lot about Timbuktu, and the adventures and horrors that faced various explorers who got there, or didn’t. They also unveil the fiction and myth-making at the heart of its histories, and how people chased after a place that didn’t really exist.

The story is as punchy, thrilling, and exciting as a thriller. But it doesn’t take the easy route and is not simply an adventurous yarn about heroic librarians. Charlie English has done a mass of reading, research, as well as interviews and first-hand reporting. Were there really hundreds of thousands of manuscripts? How bad was the risk from the jihadists? What happened to all the money donated by various international agencies? He scrapes away bluster and lily-gilding, working away at finding the truth, and he gets as close to it as he can. The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu is a brilliant piece of research, and a history with layers and depth.

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu: The Quest for this Storied City and the Race to Save its Treasures
by Charlie English
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008126643

Read articles by Charlie English in The Guardian:

William Dalrymple’s review sums up the brilliance of this book: The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English review – how precious manuscripts were saved

More about the librarians of Timbuktu

 

The Return of the She Devil

It has been 34 years since readers last heard from Fay Weldon’s infamous creation – Ruth Patchett, the ultimate she devil. Now in 2017, Ruth has returned. She is 84 years of age, now a dame, and a president for the institute for gender parity.

Her children have (unsurprisingly) not spoken to her for many years. Her husband now lives as a ‘guest’ in the high tower and suffers from dementia (though, as his carer observes, he still recognises his wife well enough and possesses the unfortunate gift of the foul-mouthed gab). The ghost of Mary Fisher haunts the high tower observing the politics and shenanigans of Ruth’s institute.

Death of a she devil

It seems that Ruth Patchett has indeed reached the end of the road. The ambitious Valerie Valeria, a relative newcomer to the institute, feels she is more than ready to take over the she devil’s mantle. This seems inevitable, until the appearance of Tyler, a young, attractive, twenty something — and the she devil’s grandson.

The ultimate down-trodden male, Tyler has suffered much — his mother is quick to remind him that, had she known he was going to be a boy, she would have aborted him. His sisters have ‘sharp elbows’ too and take daily delight in attacking his masculinity; and worst of all, as a man Tyler is unemployable and must stand passively back while woman take all the good jobs.

When Tyler eventually meets the she devil and it is proposed he transform himself into a woman to become her heir, Tyler concludes that he has nothing to lose and  everything to gain. It is a weird and wonderful story that promises to provide Weldon with plenty of hilarious ammunition, but I found this sequel to have all the weird of its predecessor ‘Life and Loves of A She Devil’ but a lot less of its wonderful. In place of Weldon’s usual sharp, effortless satire there is an overuse of  jarring obscenities, and while there were a couple of small twists along the way, I felt the attempted build up and climax to be lacking.

CoverHowever fans of Life and Loves will certainly appreciate the reappearance of characters from Weldon’s beloved original  who have aged exactly as readers would imagine. Even in her 80s, Ruth remains every bit the atrocious, scheming she devil; Mary makes for the ultimate ostentatious ghost, and Bobbo is all too believable as the foul-mouthed, utterly unlovable old man.

While many critics have also described Weldon’s gender politics as being ‘confused’, I found her narrative to be reflective of the confusing gender politics of our times, and full of Weldon’s wicked sense of humour. There are no heroes to be found in this novel — Weldon targets smug, ambitious feminists in the guise of Valerie Valeria, who really seems to have confused and indeed the forgotten all about the feminist message. Tyler/Tayla is portrayed as a spineless, unthinking vehicle for Valerie Valeria’s ambitious schemes, and the she devil herself remains the dreadful monster we have come to know from Life and Loves.

While less accomplished than her other works, there is a lot to enjoy in Weldon’s latest novel. If you are interested in the theme of gender wars or just have a great appetite for the absurd then don’t hesitate to pick this up. With Fay Weldon, you are always guaranteed an entertaining and utterly original ride.

Death of a She Devil
by Fay Weldon
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781784979607

Find more books by Fay Weldon in our collection.

Helen

What’s your favourite place to read? Tell us, and win three books from HarperCollins New Zealand

Curled up in a big cosy armchair? On the bus while you head off across town? Where’s your all-time fave spot to read? Let us know, and you are in to win three awesome books kindly supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand:

Harper Collins
Books from HarperCollins New Zealand

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in 15 suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read Alina’s review)

Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions – compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive – for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman.

Surviving 7.8: New Zealanders respond to the earthquakes of November 2016 by Phil Pennington

The story of New Zealand’s response to our second most powerful earthquake on record. Described by Geonet as one of the most complex earthquakes ever observed, Radio New Zealand’s Vicky McKay was first to report on its violence, broadcasting live in the Wellington studio when 7.8 arrived by stealth at 12.02am.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism. Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

FESTA

To enter the competition, email your contact details and a description of your favourite place to read to competition@ccc.govt.nz with the subject line “Favourite place to read competition” by 5pm on Friday 19 May. (Sorry, staff of Christchurch City Libraries and Christchurch City Council are not eligible to enter). Good luck!

Find the books in our collection