Monday, October 20, 2008

Island of the Lost

by Joan Druett.

Mr Nine-year old is obsessed by shipwrecks on Disappointment and Auckland Island, and because he's obsessed, I've become interested by association.

This book had piqued my curiousity when it first came out, and finally made to the surface of my reading pile. Well, what a book!

Instead of trying to describe it all, this is filched from the dust jacket:

"Auckland Island is a godforsaken place in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places in the world. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death. In 1864 Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew of four aboard the schooner Grafton wreck on the southern end of the island. Utterly alone in a dense coastal forest, plagued by stinging blowflies and relentless rain, Captain Musgrave - rather than succumb to this dismal fate - inspires his men to take action. With barely more than their bare hands, they build a cabin and, remarkably, a forge, where they manufacture their tools. Under Musgrave's leadership, they band together and remain civilized through even the darkest and most terrifying days." Incredibly, at the same time on the opposite end of the island - twenty miles of impassable cliffs and chasms away - the Invercauld wrecks during a horrible storm. Nineteen men stagger ashore. Unlike Captain Musgrave, the captain of the Invercauld falls apart given the same dismal circumstances. His men fight and split up; some die of starvation, others turn to cannibalism. Only three survive. Musgrave and all of his men not only endure for nearly two years, they also plan their own astonishing escape, setting off on one of the most courageous sea voyages in history."

This was a riveting book - I devoured it pretty damn quick as not only was it a fascinating true tale, but Joan Druett's story telling ability is fabulous.

It was particularly pertinent for me as shortly after reading it the family went off on holiday to Haast, and did a lot of bush walks and stood on some pretty extreme and remote beaches. It gave me a sense of what these shipwrecked men were up against and the realisation that if it were me in their place, or any of us namby pamby, spoiled by technology and modern conveniences folk, we'd have been dead in a week, if that!

It was astonishing to think of the fortitude of these people, and those of that era who were hardened and skilled and ingenious. Musgrave and his crew built their own hut out of the remains of the Grafton, they even built a forge, for heaven's sake, to forge their own metal and screws in order to build a boat to get themselves off the island.

We in the modern day think we're pretty clever, but when it comes down to it we're completely reliant on electricity and our favourite fossil fuels and supermarkets to keep us fed.

It's an interesting exercise to take time and think, okay, how would I survive in this situation. In fact, the boys and I had some lovely games on holiday of what would we do? How would we build a shelter, what would we eat? How would we make sure we survived to tell the tale. The kids had some pretty good ideas actually.

Island of the Lost was a great read and thought provoking, and I highly recommend it.


elaine said...

sounds like a good read... something at gets into the mind and chews it up a bit..I can just see my children standing there with a cell phone saying there's no power left what do we do!.. mum comes racing with the no.8 fencing wire.. not sure what dad's doing though!.. up in a tree trying to find a signal??.. finally get a chance to read your bloggs! catch you later!

Rachael King said...

I came across the Auckland island story a couple of years ago while looking through a book on shipwrecks and thought it would make a great novel one day. But I think Joan's book has put paid to that idea!

It happened again recently when I came across a two page account of the Timaru poisoner, and the very next day saw that someone had written a book about the whole affair, recently published!

Vanda Symon said...

Elaine, lovely to hear from you! I can picture your lot with the cellphones, but Hubby up a tree?!

Hi Rachael - at least you hadn't started writing the books. I live in fear that I'll spend all this time on a novel and someone will publish a similar story just before and pip me to the post!