Book Review: Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck is a haunting blend of fact and fantasy

In 1859, the steamship Admella sinks off the coast of South Australia. One of the few survivors is George Hills, who never quite manages to shake the events of the wreck. But George is haunted by more than just the cost of his survival, as a creature from another dimension who survived in the guise of a woman on board, attaches herself to his family, desperately seeking refuge and the last remnants of her own kind.

Capturing both an authentic feel for historical Port Adelaide and simultaneously creating a wonderful alien creature that feels straight out of classic science fiction, author Jane Rawson has crafted something quite unique and incredibly beautiful. The chapters helmed by the creature, recognised by George as one Miss Bridget Ledwith, are a particular highlight. Written as almost a stream of consciousness, her story unfolds beautifully, building to a final emotional climax as she and George finally come face to face, after his years of searching.

The story divides itself between Ledwith; able to transform herself at will, alternating between sea creature, street cat, birthmark, and, with some difficulty, a woman, George, his eldest son Henry, and New South Wales expat Bea, recently arrived with her abandoned grandson Ivan. It’s a beautiful mix of characters, and each voice is distinct and strong.

Ledwith’s attachments to George, and then to Henry, create moments that are wonderful and confronting in turn, opening and expanding minds, but also building tension and causing pain. And though the consequences of Ledwith’s bonds are ultimately tragic, Rawson captures a naivety and a vulnerability that shows the creature to be without malice – rather, she’s simply lonely, lost, and confused, trying to find her place and her people.

It’s loneliness that sits at the heart of the novel, as a struggle that transcends age, gender, and, yes, dimensions. From George isolating himself physically and emotionally after surviving the wreck, to Ledwith searching for her fellow kind, to Henry seeking his father’s approval and Bea, judged heavily by society yet still hoping to make a life for herself, with or without Ivan. Rawson examines loneliness in its many different forms. Loneliness, after all, does not discriminate, and acknowledging that fact is central to the resolution of the novel, and to the wider message one might take from it.

We might never have survived a shipwreck, or found ourselves bonded to a creature from another dimension, but Jane Rawson’s From The Wreck’s accounts of isolation and loneliness are incredibly relatable, and beautifully written. Combining historical fact with science fiction, From The Wreck is mysterious, tragic, and heartfelt in equal measure. An absolute must read.

From The Wreck is Jane Rawson’s third novel, and is out now, published by Transit Lounge.