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Book Review: Wild Island (2016)

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Wild Island is a modern recreation of a nineteenth century novel.

On the morning of the thirtieth March the Adastra sighted Van Diemen’s Land, a smudge on the horizon which appeared unchanging hour after hour, but next morning we woke to see cliffs and a narrow, fluted pillar of rock standing offshore. Seals basked on the rocks at the base and slid easily into the sea at our approach.” Excerpt from Wild Island, 128-129pp.

Wild Island’s front cover.

Wild Island is a modern recreation of a nineteenth century novel. Written by Jennifer Livett and set in Van Diemen’s Land during the 1800s, it interweaves Jane Eyre’s iconic love story with Sir John Franklin’s story of exploration and empire. It is a vivid portrayal of the human cost of colonisation.

The novel is historically accurate and for this dues to Jennifer Livett for clearly doing her research. Its descriptions are vivid and well-written, however, its characters are two-dimensional: they lack depth, are partially developed, and somewhat stereotyped. They do not go into detail about what they are feeling, making it difficult to relate to them.

Wild Island is over-populated with characters. It may be hard for some readers to keep up with all of them. If you know Tasmanian history well enough, though, you will be able to do so.

The main plot of the novel was also repeatedly put aside in favour of sub-plots, and a lot of scenes seemed to be rushed. Perhaps Livett could have revised the novel a few more times before publication in order to improve upon both of these sapects.

The novel is marketed as ‘a novel of Jane Eyre and Van Diemen’s Land’. This is misleading because Jane Eyre only features in a small portion of Wild Island. It should have been marketed as a novel of Jane Franklin and Van Diemen’s Land, because Jane Franklin featured more prominently than Jane Eyre.

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Despite its flaws, Wild Island is worth a read if you are a history buff. There is no rollercoaster or climax. Instead, it is a novel that needs to be read slowly and savoured.

About Jennifer Livett

Jennifer Livett has spent most of her life in Tasmania. She has a PhD in English, and worked for nearly twenty years in the English Department at the University of Tasmania.

Since retiring, she has studied printmaking at the Tasmanian School of Art and contributed work to several exhibitions in Hobart.

Wild Island is her first novel.

She currently lives in Sydney.

In 2016, Jennifer gave an interview to promote Wild Island. To read it, click here.

Technical information

Wild Island, Allen & Unwin 2016, 448pp, ISBN 9781760113834, paperback.

Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane Franklin.

Source: Tasmanian Times

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