Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Review – The Map of William

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Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby is a freelance reporter, writer and photographer based in regional Western Australia. With a background in public relations, education and tourism she’s had 30 years experience writing and photographing for local, national and international publications. Her current focus is on sharing stories from the sticks; its people, places and products and the life that lies beyond the city limits. She enjoys living in a small town while raising a tall teenager.

The Map of William is the first book by West Australian writer Michael Thomas and it’s certainly a darn good read. It is also not the book that Michael set out to write but I’m sure glad he did.

Michael, who spent his formative years travelling across vast areas in the State’s north, had retired from teaching just two years to write his memoirs. But, during the early stages of his research Michael found himself inspired to write a different story – one of historical fiction rather than one filled with personal facts.

Set in 1909, The Map of William is a gripping and fast-paced tale of 15-year-old William Watson, his father and a band of colourful companions as they undertake an expedition through WA’s north-west to map water sources. It’s an outback journey of a lifetime for William which starts on board the SS Doreen May as they sail up the coast from Old Fremantle in the south to Roebourne in the State’s far north. It’s on this ship that we’re introduced to many of the key characters; some are instantly likeable while others show the first hints of a cruel and vengeful nature that will become full blown as the story unfolds.

This story doesn’t skip a beat as it moves from sea to land and every few pages there’s a dramatic turn of events to keep the reader glued to the pages. There are encounters with the “natives”, a goal break, rescues, illness and injury and even a smattering of romance and it’s easy to imagine the setting of the Wild West landscape that is harsh and unforgiving.

There are also insights into how the “natives” were perceived by early explorers and how they were mistreated. I found it hard to read the descriptions of abuse and persecution but I understand their inclusion was necessary in providing a snapshot of how things were in that era. Cattle station owners stating that the indigenous population was a “native pestilence” in regards to cattle loss clearly shows the ignorance of the day.

Other aspects of the story that made my blood boil was the character of Sergeant Harold Jardine. This totally vile man is drunken, rude, arrogant and vindictive, and so much so that I found myself wanting to reach into the book and poke his eyes out.

There’s also some extremely crass and coarse language but it too is totally appropriate for the time in which this book is set.

But this book is far from being one of doom and gloom as there’s an abundance of laugh-out-loud moments and great character balance provided by the highly likeable central character William, along with his father, Donal Campbell, Captain Thorne and others.

I also particularly liked the insertion of ‘motherly-mottos’ into the story at regular intervals which William finds as a source of wisdom and solace. Some of Louisa Watson’s sage advice include, “We all have hackles, William and if they rise, find the reason” and “All men have tells. All men.”

But at the heart of this novel is a classic rite of passage story and one that results in the triumph of friendship against all odds.

If you’re looking for a book that includes history, action and great character development The Map of William has it in spades.

Author: Michael Thomas
Publisher: Fremantle Press
ISBN: 9781760992187
Buy through Booktopia

This book review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


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