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An occasional series on what I’m reading and why…

The Journal of Fletcher Christian, Together with the history of Henry Corkhill, Peter Corris, Vintage, 2005

I am an avid reader and read widely. I’m interested in what other people are reading and why they are reading it. I love photos of bookshelves and strain, often sideways, to see what titles are there and how they connect with my own interests and bookshelves. I very much connected with David Barnett’s thoughts in the Guardian:

‘I think it was Sarah Crown who first set me off. “Is it just me?” she asked (while accepting the cliche of that opening phrase), “is it just me, or are the contents of other people’s bookshelves/bedside tables/desks/whatever ALWAYS more interesting than your own?”

Well, is it just me, or … look, does anyone else have an unhealthy obsession not just with what people have on their bookshelves but what they’re actually reading right there and then? Does anyone else stare unashamedly at the paperback that is tucked under someone’s arm while they sort through their purse for change in the queue at Boots? Does anyone else have a better memory for the novel poking out of a new acquaintance’s pocket than that person’s face or name?’

That’s me: a ‘book voyeur’ apparently according to the article. Hopefully others out there have the same fascination with what other people are reading and why. In this spirit, I begin this series with my recent reading of Australian author, Peter Corris’ work, ‘The Journal of Fletcher Christian, Together with the journal of Henry Corkhill.’

Why am I reading this book?

Because I am interested in the genre of historical fiction and especially the place where fact and fiction come together. I am planning a novel based on the facts of the life of my great, great, great-grandmother. There will be some facts but much invention and creation based on intuition and research about times and contexts. I am interested in this nexus and keen to read in the genre I will be writing in. I also wish to understand what a sea voyage and journey to a new life was like at that time.

What was my reading experience like?

The Journal is based around the extended conceit of Corris, a historian and fiction writer, receiving a parcel in the mail with two journals enclosed, one being the journal of Henry Corkhill and the other being the journal of Fletcher Christian. Christian is well known as the mutineer of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame and the journal is the possible story of what really happened in the events leading up to the mutiny and the eventual beginning of the Pitcairn Island community.

I have to admit I was confused while I read about what was real and what was fiction.  The account of receiving the two journals is in the introduction to the book, a place where I would expect some truth from the author. But it seems that this is part of the conceit and the book is fiction. It was in the fiction section of my library, so this was a clue… Finally, I read this interview with Peter Corris which explains that it all was an elaborate conceit – a story within a story. Corris does have a distant family connection but the journals are fictional creations based on this link. I felt more comfortable once I understood this and it does work well as a literary device, if an unclear one for this reader at first.

I loved the writing, the era it evoked, the events and the characters’ psyches it unpacked, especially the clashing wills and personalities of Christian and Bligh. Being a historian as well as a novelist, Corris has created a world that is real and detailed, with the vernacular well captured. I especially loved the voice of the characters captured in the journals themselves. The journal of Henry Corkhill is equally engaging, a different voice to Christian’s and particularly eloquent and surprisingly tender in his accounts of his sexual experiences.

At other times, I found the misogyny difficult to read and hard to stomach, but I understand it was part of the times, with women being currency in the exchanges of men around land and rights. These are times that I will need to write about also and need to understand the dynamics of but the extent and ‘reality’ of it hit me very hard.

I was interested in the book because it was about sea voyages and ship life in the time my ancestor sailed to Australia. I was transported also to another time, another paradigm, to a story about two men who both seem unstable and mad but held the lives of so many in their hands. The interplay between them is compelling and a fascinating psychological insight into what might have happened and why.

I recommend it for anyone interested in the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty which I know has its own fascination and followers,  and for anyone interested in historical fiction, journals, family history, sea  journeys and the interplay between fact and fiction.

Other related reading:

Making true fiction – Shanna Germain

The lying art of historical fiction – James Forrester (Guardian)

Other reading blogs I enjoy:

Girls Just Reading

Bibliophile by the Sea

More about what others are reading:

The Book Depository Map: a boon for book voyeurs – David Barnett (Guardian)

Please send me any other links and leads in the book voyeur genre!

Image, 317/366 The Bountyby Magic Madzik from flickr and used under a Creative Commons license with thanks