Cristina Sanders is becoming an increasingly noticeable writer in the Aotearoa literature landscape. Drawing on experiences and research, Sanders is able to plunge the reader into a world of swashbuckling adventures and action filled historical settings. Once again, with Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant Sanders has brought the old world back to life through the three-masted sailing ship General Grant on its route from Melbourne to London.
It is on this voyage, within the dense fog and deep black of night, that the ship hits land of the Auckland Islands, and then the exposed island becomes the setting for adventures fuelled by greed for gold, and secrets that must be kept. Sanders has really drawn upon all sorts of literary techniques to drive a narrative that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, never letting up on the action and pace.
While it is based on real events, the story follows a narrative arc of fiction with wonderfully rich characterisation - such as that of Mrs Jewell - working with the other castaways in a furious story of survival. Certainly the simple presence of a woman in this masculine environment is reason enough to drive all kinds of conflict among the cast.
The descriptions are magnificent, and bring together the base elements of survival in the unforgiving environment. Early in their struggle there is a sequence based upon the need for fire. When eventually they are able to create even a whisper of a flame, there is much joy:
It was like a birth, another living thing among us. Without it I’m sure I would have died that night.
Overall, it is easy to love the deeply moving narrative of Mrs Jewell’s survival, as much as the action and adventure found throughout. It is truly a masterclass in the art of keeping tension high without losing the depth of control. Something many writers seem to be struggling with!
A page turner from start to finish with some rather intense scenes that remain with the reader long after finishing the novel. There are few better modern shipwreck stories around.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Cuba Street Press