DELVING into French maritime records to fictionalise a lost voyage is a considerable task for a debut novel, but Naomi J Williams pulls it off with aplomb.
Her title hints at the structure of her book, which traces the Comte de Laperouse’s doomed attempt to circumnavigate the globe in the late 1770s.
Each chapter expands upon true events in countries visited by the sister ships, Boussole and Astrolabe, told from the perspective of crew members, scientists, natives and relatives. Bookended by omnipotent narration that reveals, Greek chorus-like, the explorers’ fates, Williams cleverly cuts out months of dull seafaring to concentrate on the landfalls, with their politics of empire, savage attacks, murders and maroonings.
It’s a pacey, courageous technique that often withholds vital information for the reader to puzzle out. A magnificent reflection of the genuine mystery that surrounded the expedition for centuries and one of the most unusual books of the year.
Naomi J Williams
Little, Brown, €22.50
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