HENDERSON'S SPEAR

Ronald Wright, Author . Holt $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6996-9

A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.

HENDERSON'S SPEARRonald Wright. Holt, $25 (368p) ISBN 0-8050-6996-8

Richly imagined and crisply written, this second novel by Wright (A Scientific Romance) sails from England to Polynesia and back again, spanning a full century in its peregrinations. At its core is the memoir of one Frank Henderson, a young officer who accompanies Crown Prince Edward and his brother, George, on their round-the-world voyage in 1879. The trip comes to a climax in the Tahitian Islands, where Edward becomes involved in a homosexual relationship with an islander, who he brutally murders. Counterpointing this intriguing plot is a long and highly improbable epistle penned in 1990 by Olivia Wyvern, daughter of a British flyer declared MIA during the Korean conflict. Following her mother's death, Olivia discovers evidence that her father did not die, but rather wound up on Taiohae, the same island where Henderson's adventures brought him and where Herman Melville's earliest novel, Typee, is set. Obsessed with locating her father, Olivia travels to the South Seas, where in a series of misadventures of her own, she is imprisoned on trumped-up murder charges. While in prison, she receives an anonymous letter from a daughter she gave up for adoption when she was only 16, a child sired by a mysterious stranger claiming to have evidence of her father's whereabouts, and she begins writing to the daughter, relating all this from her cell. Binding these disparate stories together is a spear, ostensibly brought by Henderson from Africa, but actually a souvenir of his Polynesian adventures. Romantic but unsentimental, this is a beautifully constructed story with fascinating characters and authentic details that play off one another in surprising and often shocking ways. The thematic homage to Melville is punctuated with other literary allusions that enrich and deepen an already thoroughly engrossing tale of the South Pacific. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/24/2001
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-312-42179-3
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