The Burning Island by Jock Serong, Review: Engrossing prose

The Burning Island by Jock Serong is an engrossing historical adventure, a mystery thriller and tale of great love. Read on for our full review.

The Burning Island Book Synopsis

The Burning Island, Jock Serong - Book Review A father’s obsession. A daughter’s quest.

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.

Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.

(Text Publishing – September 2020)

Genre: Historical, Adventure, Mystery, Drama, Literature

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The Burning Island is my first experience of Jock Serong’s writing, and on the strength of this novel it will not be my last. I was immediately struck by the quality of his prose. Not decadent but fecund with descriptions of precision and nuance that evoked both subtle changes in mood and nature’s awe-inspiring grandeur.

… it was the towering island that held the eye. During the morning it turned into a shark’s fin, a hat, the wall of a forbidden city. When it could no longer play at illusion, it began to reveal details of itself: vertical ribs down its flanks like the baleen of a whale, a dark forest on the sloping heights above vertical cliffs. The arc of the sun found new fissures and shadows, the escarpments stood higher and pressed their claims on the sky.

While nature is often in the leading role in this novel, Serong employs his deft characterisation to the human cast also. Their light and shade, and in the case of endearingly loyal but feisty Eliza, frustration and dark humour.

Here I was again, married to the care of my father, on a ridiculous errand that promised  both hardship and anticlimax. This fearsome adversary who awaited him was probably four feet tall and suffered from hayfever. They could have one another.

The Burning Island‘s secondary ensemble cast too is afforded unexpected colour and depth; their ship’s captain a personal favourite.

So engrossed was I in this mystery-adventure tale’s depiction, only on reflection did it strike me just how simple the plot actually was. I was not entirely shocked by the denouement, the TV detective-mystery fan in me alive to the seeds sown early, but I certainly admire its execution.

I understand a much younger Joshua Grayling first appears in Jock Serong’s Preservation. But I did not feel as though I was missing any background vital to this story.

Jock Serong’s The Burning Island is as suspenseful as it is moving, in its interrogation of the best and worst of human nature.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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The Burning Island Review

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‘There is some kind of magic in the way Jock Serong conjures places and times and people. The Burning Island is a ripping yarn of a book; sometimes while reading I’d be sunk so deep in its adventures, and in the precision of captured moments, that if interrupted I’d rise to the surface blinking, reluctant and surprised.’ — Lucy Treloar

‘The moving story of a daughter’s devotion to her father, with a cracking denouement reminiscent of an Hercule Poirot mystery…The Burning Island starts out as a crime thriller involving a search for a missing ship and a quest for revenge …turns into something much more.’ — Australian Book Review

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2020.

If you like the sound of this novel, you may also enjoy:
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert  / Infamy by Lenny Bartulin /  The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by Glynis Ridley  /  Scatterwood by Piers Alexander  /  Fortune by Lenny Bartulin

About the Author, Jock Serong

Jock Serong’s novels have received the Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction, the Colin Roderick Award and the inaugural Staunch Prize (UK). They include Quota (2014), The Rules of Backyard Cricket (2016), On the Java Ridge (2017) and Preservation (2018). He lives with his family on Victoria’s far west coast. Connect with him on Twitter.

* My receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.