Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mary Bryant from a Dutch-American perspective

I've just finished Escape from Botany Bay: The True Story of Mary Bryant. Except it isn't true but a work of fiction.
A strong story that came through a rather clumsy telling. The authors made a good choice of subject. It is always ambitious to use the first person and Mary's character didn't ring true to me. When tapped there wasn't the ring of crystal, instead a rather leaden earnestness, especially in the first half of the book. Mary dances to the authors' tune and present concerns are imposed on the past.To say Mary was transported for stealing a bonnet is disingenuous. The authors' own telling has it as a crime of some violence and Mary was a practicing highway woman. The eighteenth century was a richer and more complex place than is portryed here. The book comes packaged with an authors' note at the beginning and an epilogue at the end just in case you missed their intent. The Dutch are good, the English, bad. The epilogue reads: "Mary Bryant is a national heroine in Holland but to date she is barely known in England and Australia. One assumes this is because neither English-speaking nation is proud of the penal system that needlessly took so many unfortunate lives." Pontification from afar? In recent years there have been both a TV mini-series and a play on Mary in this country. And we have a rich and complex relation with our convict past. At $27.95 I can't see it have a big YA take up here though. Still, despite the book's flaws overall, I enjoyed the story when I got into it and book grew in strength. James Boswell comes through as a nicer percursor to Truman Capote.

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