Review published on September 28, 2016.
A. N. Wilson’s novel Resolution is set around the eventful life of George Forster, who was, at different stages of his life, a boy genius with a prodigious skill for languages, a botanist and explorer, a librarian, a cuckolded husband, and a philosopher who became entangled in the happenings in revolutionary France.
Young George Forster and his father joined the HMS Resolution to study botany and zoology on Captain Cook’s second expedition to the southern hemisphere. Forster is not a household name but had a fascinating life. His exploits travelling on the Resolution showed him a world he had not known existed and his skilful drawings were able to bring that world back to Europe. This telling of the voyage of discovery the Resolution embarked upon is enlightening but it is George who we focus upon most. His life before, during and after the Resolution, it always comes back to his experiences travelling with his hero Captain Cook. George Forster is shown as a man whose best days are behind him. Nothing he ever does will match his experiences as an explorer. In hindsight it becomes clear that he will never be as happy again.
There are some richly drawn characters within this novel. George’s father, known to others as ‘the tactless philosopher’, finds fault with everything and provokes enmity and irritation wherever he goes. He manages to be a figure of fun but also of sympathy. Somehow he can never quite recognise that his words are always wrong. The character of Nally also elicits sympathy from the reader – his tireless devotion to George and the sense of him being different to those around him and living in the wrong time make him a tragic character.
This is a spectacular historical novel, well written and compelling. The device of jumping back and forth works well, holding the reader’s interest – as George’s best days are the Resolution and he comforts himself with his recollections, so the reader’s interest in the journey is rewarded as we step back to witness the voyage again and again. George is a deeply flawed hero but one whose journey the reader still wishes to follow. This is an accomplished novel that is a gift to the reader.
Eleanor King 4/4
Resolution by A. N. Wilson
Allen & Unwin 1782398279 hbk September 2016
ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR: Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
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