Coconut Chaos by Diana Souhami
|Coconut Chaos by Diana Souhami|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A marvellously eclectic mix of historic fact, travel, a bit of fiction and the joyous realisation that this is the sort of unusual book that is a jewel of a find for any jaded reader.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: March 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Our anonymous narrator has a chaos-theory-theory about the mutiny on the Bounty. It can all be traced back to Fletcher Christian stealing a coconut. Armed with this thought and the intrepid spirit of many Britons before her, she sets off for Pitcairn Island, the isolated home of Christian and his band of dissenters 3,000 miles from New Zealand. She leaves behind a beloved but delusional mother, her partner and all the comforts of civilisation as she travels with hope and the inimitable Lady Myre. Meanwhile we listen to true stories about the mutiny, the aftermath and the fact that there weren't really many heroes, just a group of flawed individuals fighting for survival.
Diana Souhami is well known for her historic biographies, however here she mashes things up a little. We're treated to a partly fictionalised travelogue of a journey to Pitcairn by someone almost like her but not quite, an account of the modern day island and, in alternating chapters a wonderful social history of life before during and after the troubles between Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian, coconut and all. The result is thoroughly engrossing and rather moreish demonstrated by the fact that it was only the necessity to go to work that stopped me inhaling the whole volume in one sitting.
Diana's style is informally conversational and, as peculiar as it sounds, the juxtaposition of the 21st century sojourn sits extremely well beside the story of its initial inhabitants. Through the author's guidance, backed up by contemporary accounts, we're introduced to a self-serving, megalomaniacal Fletcher Christian who's a fair match for the equally self-centred Bligh. Indeed, forget all you may have read about the good Captain being misrepresented by history; here he's totally red in tooth and claw.
It's easy to judge historic characters by modern standards (although neither of the main protagonists seem to have treated their subordinates sympathetically) but when it comes to the mutineers and the Polynesians the relationship is even less symbiotic as Christian and his men lie, exploit and worse, underestimating the locals' value and overlooking their humanity.
Our modern traveller has a less fierce companion, although she isn't the sort of company you would want unless you planned to write a book afterwards. The Margot Leadbetteresque Lady Hortense Myre is a wonderful counterpoint to the brutality of the past as we witness, smirk and guffaw at her, naiveté, thwarted expectations and elephant-thick skin.
On a more serious note they arrive on current Pitcairn (just as remote and still as comparatively primitive by 21st century standards) in the middle of a factual legal case that shakes the island to the core of its independence. The narrator is understandably torn between agreeing with the islanders that the source of the accusation seems odd and disagreeing with them about the seriousness of the charges. Along the way we're given quirky facts like, not having a prison by the 21st century, the prospective inmates have to build one. Here is where we see themes from the past repeat themselves. The first inhabitants of the formerly unoccupied island arrived after a perceived misunderstanding and centuries later, due to a distant justice system, a similar annoyance continues, and to think it all started with the urge for a coconut.
If the denizens of the Bounty now intrigue you as they do me, we definitely recommend Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne.
You can read more book reviews or buy Coconut Chaos by Diana Souhami at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Coconut Chaos by Diana Souhami at Amazon.com.
Coconut Chaos by Diana Souhami is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.
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