Jane Rawson’s bold and imaginative novel “From the Wreck” is a work of historical fiction that jumps off a cliff. Grounded in an authentic historical setting, the narrative escalates swiftly from George Hills’ experience of a nineteenth century shipwreck off the coast of Australia, to the struggle for survival of an alien in human form seeking refuge on planet Earth.
The author messes with our suspension of disbelief, as the novel shifts abruptly from the conventions of historical fiction to the first person musings of the alien, a shapeshifter with an intergalactic disregard for the puny human it inhabits.
Irony abounds, both in the conflicting assumptions of people about each other, and the plight of insignificant humans in a universe so large that it is beyond comprehension. The extremes of the human condition are fully rendered – shipwreck survivors resorting to cannabalism in order to survive, a mother abandoning her child, male sexual predators, harsh judgements of anyone who differs from conventional expectations.
However, it’s not all bleak. The colonial Australians are interesting in themselves, particularly George’s son Henry, a boy whose intense life of playing make-believe and collecting dead things is engaging and humorous. Henry’s aunt and uncle stick up for him and give him encouragement when a family tragedy strikes. George, the main protagonist, eventually finds a modicum of happiness. Even the alien finds some relief from its existential dilemmas. Interestingly, male characters take centre stage in the novel, most of them warmly portrayed. There is also an even balance with strong female characters capable of setting men right when they are wrong.
The overall feel of the novel is tough-minded, ironic and good humoured. The sense of a vast uncaring universe in the portrayal of the existential angst of the alien, is countered by the empathic human characters and the historical setting that the novel delivers. Our suspension of disbelief is thoroughly rewarded, in an unusual novel that works wonderfully well.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 1st 2017 by Transit Lounge