“Small creatures,” I tell them, because aren’t we all? “Small creatures, calm yourselves.” We taste each other’s breath and they know there’s none of their kind been through my mouth and they still themselves. Small creatures. We talk, this and that. Minds only; no sounds. They are the feel of speed squeezed into muscle and bone. They show me their terrible smashing feet pushing hard against grassy ground, and ocean of sweat, blood so loud in their ears they can’t hear a single other thing.
Jane Rawson is one of my favourite authors because she has an uncanny ability to see familiar things as alien, and to make the alien familiar. It’s a cycle, a distancing, dissociating and reconciling. This was the case in A Wrong Turn At the Office of Unmade Lists, it was the case with her novella Formaldehyde and wow, is it ever the case with From the Wreck. But this one seems to be the first of Rawson’s novels that has drawn attention to this trait, in fact it spotlights it – makes it the star.
It is the story of George, who is a survivor of the shipwrecked Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. And it is the story of an unnamed “I”, that has also survived a kind of wreck, an entity entirely foreign and entirely familiar, alien and pure humanity. Animal and self-aware and unspoken and articulate. It/she is linked to George, and physically imprinted on his eldest son Henry. George obsesses about the woman he was rescued with who subsequently disappeared. He knows somehow the mark Henry lives with is related to the shipwreck. And eventually, that mark wants to go home. But where does that leave Henry?
This is a fluid novel. It has to be felt, rather than understood and even so there’s a lot of unanswered questions. But that’s important in staying true to the spirit of the thing, the novel was, after all inspired by the mystery of the Admella wreck. Rawson makes her leaps of faith intelligently and confidently enough that the reader enjoys leaping with her. There’s a lot to linger on in here. A largesse of feeling. You feel you can stretch out your mind and your heart in its pages. And that’s a rare, wonderful thing.