In R L Stevenson’s original, a group aim to recover buried pirate loot from Treasure Island, amidst attempts by the pirates, including Long John Silver, to thwart them. In Motion’s first novel Jim Hawkins and Natty Silver, children of two original protagonists return to the Island to retrieve the stash of silver. At the start of this, the second, in 1803, they are ashore on an isolated beach after shipwreck. They try to return home to London.
Stevenson’s tale for boys was smoothly written and compelling with an exotic location, clear, active, story line, strong characters, dissent, fighting and other incidents, leading to a successful conclusion for the “goodies”. Motion’s – for grown-ups – is these and so much more. Jim has stolen a sacred necklace and is pursued by Black Cloud (the owner) as they travel from the Texas beach, through deserts and wastes, east to the Mississippi, then downriver to New Orleans. Diverse people step forward to help Jim & Natty on their travels. We are shown the modern nation being built, but the dissolution of the native way of life. Vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife are a strong part of this tale.
Interleaved with this beautiful and controlled elegy to lost civilisations, cultures and landscapes there is an exploration of the sense of home and place, the nature of relationships – both longstanding and transient – and morality, ownership and the value of things.
This is a wonderful novel to read, preferably slowly, absorbing the images laid down by former Poet Laureate, Motion. There are rich landscapes and strange characters, with deep questions of philosophy and morality almost casually dropped in. If you have read and enjoyed Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, this is an earlier set and more southern American pilgrimage, similarly enthralling while asking questions of the reader, but with even more luscious landscapes. With all this, I would definitely recommend it to book groups.
The New World: Beyond Treasure Island by Andrew Motion
9780099583783|Vintage pbk Oct 2015