Thursday, 14 February 2019

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

Running away to sea is not I imagine an easy task; but doing it disguised as a male ship steward while recovering from the birth of a baby is surely beyond the realms of believability. But believable it is; for this fictional account is based on the real life story of Marie –Louise Girardin who in 1791 flees France and the wrath of her family to sail the South Seas.

With her breasts swaddled and a letter of introduction under her new name Louis, she finds a position (and her own cabin) on the French exploration ship the Recherche. Recherche, with Huon de Kermadec’s ship the Esperance, sets out on what will become a three year journey in search of the lost French navigator La Pérouse.

Leaving behind France in the midst of the French Revolution the ships navigate to New Caledonia, the south-western coast of New Holland (Western Australia), Van Dieman’s Land and the Friendly Isles, before completing their journey in the Dutch East Indies.

Struggling with the loss of her son Marie –Louise/Louis divides her on board time between stretching the quickly diminishing food supplies and mixing with the contingent of scientists sent to both collect New World specimens as well as plant French seeds in foreign soil.

Whilst the crew of the Recherche may be suffering from endless days and nights on the seas there is no such dreariness in store for the reader. Stephanie Parkyn has taken the bare bones of this Age of Discovery story and turned it into a realistic character driven narrative.

Through the eyes of our feisty brave heroine Marie-Louise; Parkyn shows us the world of the French royal aristocracy juxtaposed against Olympe de Gouges and the other women fighting for their rights in the French Revolution. Then from the bottom of the world we experience both the hand to mouth existence of the people of New Caledonia to the resource rich generous people of Tongatabou.

Although the short chapters help to move this story on very quickly, it is the vividly drawn characters, and wonderful descriptions of the South Seas in the eighteenth century that make this one very good historical novel.

Reviewed by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link:  Into the World

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