I don't possess enough adjectives or superlatives to describe how I feel about this book. Beautiful, amazing, breathtaking, divine, gorgeous, exquisite, pulchritudinous (looked that one up!), magnificent, stunning, delightful, elated, I could continue forever. I just didn't want this book to end.
Captain Harry Thompson has made good. Coming from a working class background he is put in command of HMS Banshee the flag ship for a small fleet of ships taking cargo to Australia. On board he meets his First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, and the internal struggle of duty to The Crown or succumb to one's feelings begin. This is a time where sodomy will take you straight to the gallows. "They’ll pillory us and pelt us with excrement. They’ll mock and laugh and whisper. They’ll take away the twenty years of my life I spent working for this: my rank, my ship, my duty, my king and country. My pride.
So the need to be circumspect in all things is imperative. These guys go through hell and back, through adventure on the high seas, through raging storms, marooned on an island, giving themselves over to their fate and then fashioning a world for themselves to be happy as best as they can in this time. The cargo; they have been charged with taking convicts to Australia. Harry because of his lowly beginnings understands on a certain level the suffering of the convicts."I can’t find it in me to blame them for what they did. I’d have done the same had I been caught scrumping apples, confined in chains for months, tossed and forgotten as human ballast in the utter dark and freezing cold of the underwater hull. If I’d gone into that a man, I’d have come out a monster. I can’t blame them."
After escaping storm and a mutiny from the prisoners they end being marooned on the proverbial desert island. However, there is nothing tacky or Robinson Crusoe about this part of the story. It just emphasises the love they have for each other but also their differences. Garnet misses civilasation, however Harry finds a freedom he has never known before."To me, this is the reality. Out there they make us pretend. They force us into lies or hiding. Here I’ve been free to be myself for the first time in my life. You and I, it’s the first honest thing I’ve ever done. And that’s because this place has given me the freedom to do it.” A little sigh of amusement mingled with melancholy. “Your prison is my refuge."
They are picked up from the island, but their initial joy will be short lived. Harry realises the Navy isn't everything and his ties to Garnet are now so much closer than any sense of duty. After being found out on board the HMS Pandora, the ship that rescued them, by its captain it seems their fate is sealed. However, a twist of fate allows them to escape and make a new start."I’ve had enough journeying. I think it is time to stop.” It is surprising what a man can give away and still remain himself. With that decision, we lost our family, our friends, and our country, but as I rolled onto my back and looked up at the stars, I felt as though I had in some small way received my island back. “No man is an island, entire of himself,” says John Donne, but two may be, together, needing nothing else.
The writing is descriptive and lyrical, but doesn't spare on the reality of the situation either. I smelled the rancid conditions on board. The odour of stale food, rot, Typhus and death. The scent of tar and pitch, sea water and damp. I suffered the exhaustion of the crew battling their way through storms and making little headway. I felt the elation and joy in Harry on the island being able to live a way of life they wanted, free from persecution. I mourned with Garnet and his longing to get back to civilasation. I panicked at the fear of the truth coming out and the pair of them being marched to the gallows; of the angst during the storms. Basically, through the author's writing I lived this book.
This book is written as a journal, each character being a chapter or journal entry. This was a wonderful notion, it was like readng someone's personal diary and getting to know their innermost thoughts and feelings. However, it was not disjointed, Harry's journal entry always picking up nicely and relating to something in Garnet's and vice versa. A way of sharing, a joint dairy with individual perspectives. The style changes between each journal entry and you soon get the feeling that Harry is the conservative, duty bound responsible captain and Garnet is your more flambouyant, risqué and bumptious character. I just loved this whole idea of them writing their lives down and this being locked away until a time where it would be safe to read such a thing."I am resigned to the deception, but still I resent it. I would be honest if I could. I am an honest man, it is only the world that forces me to lie. To that end, I am sealing this completed diary and depositing it in my bank, to be released when we are both dead. I think of it as a message in a bottle, cast out into the seas of time. May the future reader know what we have not been permitted to say in the present: that we were happy.