Wanting by Richard Flanagan

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Wanting by Richard Flanagan

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Donna Wells
Reviewed by Donna Wells
Summary: The Old World versus the New World in this heart wrenching tale of an aboriginal girl imposed upon by British Rule.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1848870772

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Read the blurb on the back of Flanagan's Wanting, and you'll think it's the usual post colonial tale of Britain as enemy number one, wanting to impose its rule on everyone else. In a way it is such a tale, but what makes it more interesting is the story of a little girl caught up in the wider historical events.

Picture the perfect victim; young, female, orphaned, aboriginal, and you'll have the main character. Mathinna embodies exactly what The Great British Empire went out to conquer. Her wild freedom and unbridled passion are specifically what's being repressed, or at least hidden, in the dark, stifling world of London. Her red dress has a similar impact to the little girl wearing a red dress in the film Schindlers List - she is a stark contrast to the environment being imposed upon her.

Enter main character number two: no less than the great Charles Dickens - well travelled, renowned for defending the outcast and morally sound, right? Well Dickens isn't quite what you'd expect. He represents how the civilized world viewed the exploits abroad and I'm afraid he is portrayed as being more concerned with his own worries than wider events. Trapped in a loveless marriage, depressed by the death of his daughter and thrown into writing and acting to keep himself sane - Dickens feels as empty as the oyster shells he kicks before entering the theatre.

Flanagan sets the Old and New World up against each other through these two characters and across two settings - London and Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land). Mathinna is adopted by Lady Jane Franklin (wife of the Governor of Tasmania) as though she were the final item to be ordered off a long menu. Then she is dragged from her wild home to be civilized by the Franklins as part of an experiment. Despite their efforts Mathianna's tutor actually becomes educated by her as she teaches him to dance and learn her native tongue, and in the end the experiment fails utterly for the child would not become white. This has devastating consequences for all involved, particularly for Mathianna who can no longer fit back into her native society while is unaccepted in the white world too.

Simultaneously, we follow the life of Dickens who finds himself drawn ever deeper into the play he's performing, The Frozen Deep, and into the arms of a fellow actress. Of course Dickens has a supreme advantage over Mathinna, even if both feel imprisoned, since he is a white male and bends the world to his schemes and dreams as he does his characters.

If you're looking for an uplifting light novel this isn't it. I came away feeling distraught for poor Mathinna, grudging sympathy for the barren Lady Jane and relieved that the notions of the savage and the civilised have moved on, I was also disturbed that my life long writing hero Dickens isn't shown as being quite as noble as I hoped. However, what this novel is brilliant at is giving you an insight into the thoughts and psychology of the time, it's powerful heart wrenching stuff and it also made me think that if that was the civilised world I'll take the wild unfettered new world thanks very much!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another look at our great writer try The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl but for another, non-fiction look at how the Aboriginal community is treated, even fairly recently, have a look at The Tall Man: Life and Death on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper.

Buy Wanting by Richard Flanagan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wanting by Richard Flanagan at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Wanting by Richard Flanagan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wanting by Richard Flanagan at Amazon.com.


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