Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Journal Of Fletcher Christian

 It was not with any intention that I read two novels with a similar premise one after the other. If you read my Girl With a Pearl Earring review then you will know it was a piece of conjectural writing with a historical backdrop. The Journal of Fletcher Christian has exactly the same premise but far surpasses Tracy Chevalier's novel. I hope you all know who Fletcher Christian was!! But where Tracy Chevalier absolutely missed the mark with an historical 'air' in her lovely little novel, Australian Peter Corris gets it dead on and provides a fascinating, plausible, and entertaining piece of historical conjecture.

 Hopefully you are all aware of, or have at least heard of the Mutiny on the Bounty. It is an interesting piece of history that has enthralled people world wide having been examined and dissected but scholars, and immortalised by novelists and film makers for generations. The names Bligh and Christian are common household names and conjure up the mutiny every time they are uttered. There is much known about the munity, especially from Bligh's perspective, as he survived it and made an incredible navigational feat sailing to Timor from around Tahiti in a small cutter. He had with him a number of faithful crew from the Bounty with only one death on this remarkable journey.

 Peter Corris opens his novel with from his own point of view and how he came into possession of the 'journal'. It reads like non-fiction as Corris uses himself in that manner. I'm not overly sure of this method of opening a novel of this type thinking an unknown narrator is more preferable. Jack Higgins uses this method a lot ( notably in his most famous novel The Eagle has Landed ). The novel then opens with a young man ( Henry Corris ) who writes his own journal on his life at sea. He inadvertently ends up on Pitcairn Island where he is handed Christian's 'journal' from the last living member of the mutinous crew. The narrator is told he has an uncanny resemblance to Fletcher Christian, and he in time finds circumstantial evidence he may in fact be distantly related. Christian was a Manx man with a swarthy complexion, and Henry Corris himself is descended from The Isle of Man, ( he also has a swarthy complexion but is told by his sisters it is Indian blood ).

 Corris's journal is an opening gambit and only 69 pages long as it is there to show how Christian's 'journal' turned up. I like the premise and it is plausible even though totally fictional. Peter Corris obtained a PhD in Australia and worked in academia for over twenty years specialising in Pacific history. He then turned to journalism and novel writing. All his life long skills are apparent in this novel. His grip on the munity is strong and I just brought into his conjecture on what happened to the Bounty after Bligh was kicked off.

 As a Kiwi I have read quite a number of works on Captain James Cook ( of who Bligh sailed with on his second voyage ). Much of Corris's novel is set in Tahiti and he captures the historical feel of the times perfectly. So much of Cook's writings and observations are mirrored by Fletcher through Corris. His knowledge comes through and adds to the plausibility of his novel. It is a glaring difference with that of Tracy Chevalier's novel. I also got a real Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe feel  as this novel has traces of both of those famous works, but without the literal prose. Corris does write in a way to mirror that of the era but is never too heavy handed or thick. As a piece of conjecture it works extremely well, but as a piece of maritime fiction it is well above average. It is the sort of novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

 The Crusoe feel occurs once Christian has found Pitcairn Island and the crew and Bounty's usable equipment onshore. From there the 'journal' pretty much describes a colony in anarchy. Corris has succinctly shown what probably happened to a group of hunted men with no law or order. The group implodes and ends up killing one another. Christian himself is murdered in the postscript. I can believe this even though it is again conjecture and overall I think Peter Corris is probably not far of what probably happened.

 As stated in Girl With A Pearl Earring I like these types of conjectural novels. They are fun way of looking at plausible historical events in the wake of any actual knowledge. The sad thing about Peter Corris's novel is that it will never receive the attention or readership Chevalier's has received even though it is far the superior novel of the type.

 At 280 pages it is a relatively quick and easy read. I read it in two nights, having read the first journal of 69 pages one night and the following 210 the next night. Corris has attempted to use and write in the manner of an educated naval man of 1790, making it readable to a modern audience. His knowledge is obvious and I think this a very well thought out novel on what possibly happened after the munity. As stated it will appeal to any number of readers, from those who like historical fiction, to those with a maritime leaning, and to those who know of the munity and have a passing interest in it. On every level this will satisfy anyone who takes the time to read it.

 A very well thought out piece of conjectural history, and well worth your time to read.

 ( Amazon has this with 5 stars out of 5, but that is only from one review! I'd agree with 5. Compare this with Chevalier's novel that has over 800 reviews, and you'll understand why it is with regret that this, the far better novel, hasn't gathered the readership it deserves ).

Click here for wikipedia's very informative and useful page on the munity with links to movie and book adaptations:


  1. I'm interested in what possibly happened to him, always liked the story. Good review.

  2. Thanks!! Well we certainly know that they ended up on Pitcain Island!! This is what makes this such an interesting novel as the reader does think that very thing...'I wonder what did happen to them really?'