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The Burning Island

The Burning Island 1

by Jock Serong
Publication Date: 01/09/2020
5/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $32.99 $26.75

A father’s obsession. A daughter’s quest.

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a seavoyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.

Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.

Historical Fiction
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Text Publishing Company
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Jock Serong

Jock Serong lives and works on the far southwest coast of Victoria. Formerly a lawyer, he is now a features writer, and the editor of Great Ocean Quarterly.

His first novel, Quota, won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. His most recent novel is The Rules of Backyard Cricket. Jock is married with four children and lives in Port Fairy, Victoria.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • a powerful piece of Australian historical fiction

    by on

    “The surface was calm enough to reflect the galaxies, so that it looked as though the universe swirled all around us above and below, as if up and down had ceased to exist and only all around remained: the Moonbird was aloft and freed of its own weight.”

    The Burning Island is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian author, Jock Serong and is a sequel to his earlier novel featuring Joshua Grayling, Preservation. When thirty-two-year-old tutor, Eliza Grayling is followed home from town by an ageing Indian, she cannot, for one moment, conceive that she will be, at his suggestion, setting out on a journey to Bass’s Strait with her ageing, blind father, mere days later.

    Srinivas has come to her with a story of a missing ship: crew, cargo and passengers all believed lost, the wreckage of which he blames on a certain Mr Figge, the almost mythical figure who inhabits the disturbing story her father, Joshua sometimes tells. Once in the service of Governor Hunter, on hearing about the loss of the Howrah, the former Lieutenant exhibits uncharacteristic enthusiasm for the proposed investigatory voyage, clearly eager to draw out his nemesis. Eliza is well aware of her father’s problem with drink, and feels that his taking part is inadvisable.

    What, more than anything, sways Eliza to participate in this rather nebulous quest, is the vessel itself, a Danish schooner named The Moonbird: “I have no regard for the idea that it is possible to love an inanimate object. I will choose instead to say that this modest boat, perhaps eighty feet of her, was animate. And she was entangled, right alongside me, in a venture that made no sense. I felt she was on my side … I felt the boat cared for us in our individual plights, held us cupped somehow: carrying us, rather than being sailed by us.”

    The master that Srinivas has engaged for The Moonbird is a rather sombre man who surprises them all by garbing himself in a range of fetching dresses; the crew are two young convicts, capable brothers raised separately, who are both tender and volatile with each other; the paying passenger is a medical doctor intent on research of sea creatures for human nutrition, who fills the captain’s quarters with a laboratory’s worth of equipment and specimens.

    The close quarters serve to quickly amplify both passions and conflicts, but it is not until a gross betrayal of trust and several deaths that the true situation is known.

    Serong gives the reader an entrancing tale laced with some exquisite descriptive prose: “a wide body of water opened to the north of us, flat and serene and impossibly lovely. It made a chalky blue-green over the sandflats, a blue of royalty over the deeps, shades of lilac and mauve where a haze blended the two, further away. And in the places where waves rolled gently over reefs, other colours would dare to intrude upon the chorus of those shades; a burst of orange and brown where the surge lifted kelp to the surface, an explosion of white as the wave broke and dissipated”

    He gives his complex characters some wise words and insightful observations: “Anyone who loves intensely will believe it is they who emit the light, they who shine warmth on the other. There is a selfcentredness in love, so strong that we fail to notice the loved one illuminating us” and, on grief: “You are fated to carry this all your days now, this loss. But you may alter its shape; that is the one grace permitted you.”

    The Author’s Note details the actual historical events that form part of the story; readers will be grateful for the detailed map included; Serong’s extensive research is apparent on every page, touching on the structure of island sealing communities, the appalling treatment of indigenous Tasmanians by white settlers and government, and the “Christian” activities of certain nineteenth-Century evangelists, to name a few topics. This is a powerful piece of Australian historical fiction.
    This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Text Publishing.