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The Night Ship
di Jess Kidd
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I had previously read and enjoyed Jess Kidd’s Himself, so I thought I’d try another. The Night Ship is based on a real event that occurred in 1628, the sinking of the Dutch ship Batavia near an island off the coast of western Australia. The historical people are part of the narrative, and the story is told by fictional nine-year-old girl, Mayken. There is a second timeline, set in 1989, where we find a nine-year-old boy, Gil, visiting his grandfather, who lives on the same island.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I vastly prefer the historical story to the modern storyline to the point where I wonder why the second timeline was necessary. The two stories read more like separate books, with very little overlap. They are loosely tied by references to a mythical creature and an artifact, but I do not think those elements were enough.
The tone is eerie, almost like we are hearing a ghost story. There is a lot of foreshadowing, probably too much, since we know ahead of time what is going to happen, and it lessens the impact. There is a good amount of macabre content, and I think the nine-year-olds were a little too young to be believable. Even though it contains nine-year-old protagonists, I definitely would not recommend reading it to children.
Although this novel concerns a true historic incident, about a ship named Batavia that was shipwrecked, after listening to one third of the book, the foul language, forced attempt at eroticism and attempt to be “woke” in a time when “woke” did not exist, was a bit hard to take. I was forced to stop after spending far too many hours trying to appreciate the story.
First of all, one part takes place in 1628 and concerns a young girl, Mayken, traveling with her nursemaid to her father’s home, in a place with the same name as the boat, Batavia, after her mother’s death. She dresses as a boy and curses like one, in order to pass as a male to get into certain parts of the boat and participate and witness certain activities. The other part takes place in 1989 and concerns a young boy, Gil, on his way to Batavia in search of Mayken’s ghost who is supposedly still wandering there. His mother has recently died, as well. He is traveling with his grandfather. He dresses up as a girl, and likes make-up. Both main characters are 9-year-olds who like tall tales which are graphic and often brutal in nature. Both are traveling on the water. Both children have sad backgrounds.
The story is imaginative, and has been lauded in the publishing world, however, the crude language, exploitation of sex in the dialogue and lack of character of the protagonists, turned off this reader. I could not finish it. I do not know what is happening to literature, but it seems to be disappearing in an attempt to indoctrinate the reader with current politically correct messages that consist of dysfunctional behavior and guilt-ridden themes. It seems to be failing at that for many of us who prefer well written, carefully thought out plots and interesting, likeable characters who are not trying to shock us, but rather to entertain or educate us with meaningful information.
Colourful but Dismal
Jess Kidd is undoubtedly a very good writer. She tells a tale with vigour and colour, and I applaud her for that.
I am so glad that I've finished The Night Ship, not because I'm glad to have read it so much as I'm glad it's over.
I suppose I'm not the target audience for this historical novel, but I found it to be dismal, depressing and ultimately irredeemable.
I remember enjoying tragic stories purely for their tragedy as a teenager, and maybe if it had just been tragic I could have fallen back into that rhythm, but Gil's story in particular was just awful. I felt sad for him, but I didn't actually like him. Everything that happened to Gil was so sad, it needed a lift of some sort, a draw other than just sympathy for a broken kid in a dingy, dismal situation.
Mayken's story however, I did find enjoyable in a few ways.
There was a great sense of wonder and adventure at the start of the book, and I liked hearing about the way the ship was loaded and the types of people on board. Seeing it all through a child's eyes gave it a great sense of scope. Even still though, knowing from the start that she and everyone she was with was going to be dead soon took a lot of the magic out of reading Mayken's point of view.
I did enjoy the parallel scenes been Gil and Mayken, and the way the author brought their stories alongside each other. Mayken was a happy child who died tragically, and Gil was a miserable child who lived tragically.
I have a hard time with kid stories where all the adults are trash, and I really did have a hard time pinpointing redeemable people among the grown-ups in both eras. I don't know why I would read about such dreadful, sad people in a non educational way. There are times It is necessary and makes sense to read sad things about sad people, but I didn't find this to be worthwhile.
Having said that, there clearly was something that drew me along, as I did make it to the end. Kidd's writing is very bright and interesting, I would still be interested to read more of her work.
I've enjoyed Jess Kidd's previous novels and happily picked up her latest - The Night Ship.
Kidd's new novel takes inspiration from an actual historic event - the sinking of the Dutch ship Batavia in 1628. Historical figures are part of the book as well. Our narrator, a nine year old girl named Mayken, is fictional.
Three hundred years in the future (1989), a nine year old boy named Gil comes to visit his grandfather on the island that was the site of the sinking of the Batavia. He is the narrator of this time as well.
I found myself more drawn to Mayken and her time span. I am fascinated by this point in history and this book being partially true, drew me in. Mayken also has a feistier attitude, she's clever, bold and brave. Gil has had a difficult upbringing so far. The island is not a refuge for him and his grandfather is distanced. But....I really had a hard time trying to find empathy for Gil. He is the author of many of his own problems. Again, I reminded myself he has had a traumatic childhood. I found a number of the supporting cast in this time period to be overdrawn and over the top. Some of Mayken's actions also require a few grains of salt - but I found I was happy to do that.
Tying the two together is a mythical creature and a relic that has survived the years. That, and the fact that they are both children struggling in difficult situations. I have to admit, as the book progressed, I was expecting something more, something more concrete or hoping for something more concrete, something bigger, but it never materialized.
I wish the protagonists would have been older and in their teens. I would have found the narratives more believable. Nine year old protagonists are a bit too young for me.
This was a mixed bag for me. I really enjoyed the historical chapters, but I wasn't drawn to Gil's narrative at all. It's almost like there are two books being told in alternating chapters with not enough to tie them together. I'm an outlier on this one I think.
I chose to listen to The Night Ship. The narrators were Fleur De Wit and Adam Fitzgerald. De Wit narrated Mayken's story and Fitzgerald voiced Gil's. De Wit has a pleasant voice that is easy on the ears. She enunciates well and speaks at a measured pace. Her voice has movement. I did find her esses to be a bit sibilant. She provides a child's voice for Mayken. Unfortunately I found it became annoying about halfway through the book and too cutesy. Fitzgerald has a strong Aussie accent that I loved. Some may find it takes a bit getting used to. His reading is expressive and captures the plot. He does not provide a different, younger voice for Gil. Instead this time period is told in one voice.
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1629: A newly orphaned young girl named Mayken is bound for the Dutch East Indies on the Batavia, one of the greatest ships of the Dutch Golden Age. Curious and mischievous, Mayken spends the long journey going on misadventures above and below the deck, searching for a mythical monster. But the true monsters might be closer than she thinks. 1989: A lonely boy named Gil is sent to live off the coast of Western Australia among the seasonal fishing community where his late mother once resided. There, on the tiny reef-shrouded island, he discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck.
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Sistema Decimale Melvil (DDC)823.92Literature English & Old English literatures English fiction Modern Period 2000-
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With amazing symmetry Jess Kidd weaves a story about friendship, sacrifice, brutality, evil and forgiveness. ( )