Wrack

James Bradley, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6108-6
A seamless fusion of dramatic wartime love story, historical fiction and archeological murder mystery, Australian writer Bradley's accomplished debut novel has a dreamlike compulsion. Archeologist David Norfolk, obsessively searching for a 16th-century Portuguese ship wrecked on the coast of New South Wales, digs up the body of a man shot to death 50 years earlier. An Ondaatjean hermit, cantankerous, cancer-ridden and living in a nearby shack, holds the clue both to the victim's identity and the ship's whereabouts. As David and his ex-girlfriend Dr. Claire Sen tend to the dying recluse, Kurt Seligmann, and resume a romance of their own, they listen to their patient reminisce about the years 1937-1942, when he was an archeologist from Sidney, living in occupied Singapore and embroiled in an affair with the wife of his mentor and best friend, Fraser McDonald. (The corpse on the beach, it turns out, could be Fraser.) Seligmann, too, once searched for the wreck that Norfolk seeks--a ship that, if found, could challenge Tasman and Cook's claim to have discovered the continent and would explain the presence of the land mass on Renaissance maps. Bradley adroitly interpolates details of the fierce rivalry between the 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese empires, and fascinating lore on mapmaking. His prose, which alternates between clipped, declarative statements and lyrical, metaphor-filled cadenzas, may make too sweet a meal for some readers. The novel's concluding words--""the past is... a shifting sea with nothing at its center, except illusions, and loss""--exemplifies the kind of generalization that weakens this otherwise suspenseful story. Yet Bradley's skill in interweaving the novel's strands to create a graceful meditation on death, ambition and obsession creates a memorable novel. (May) FYI: Wrack won two Australian literary awards and was shortlisted for the 1998 Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book.
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 15 pages - 978-0-09-183494-4
Paperback - 340 pages - 978-0-8050-6447-6
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