You ask, ‘Can the dead speak?’
I answer, ‘Is this blood that runs in my veins, or ink?’
You ask, ‘Are you real or a character in a book?’
I answer, ‘I am real enough. I call myself Jack Ireland. I am sixteen years old. A century ago I sailed the South Seas. I lived then, I live now.’
You ask, ‘So is this history?’
I answer, ‘If it bores you, shut the book – but you will not silence my voice. After all I have suffered, it is impossible to destroy me. So I ask you to red me. I ask you to hear me. See me. Touch me. Others have, and tasted my blood …’
You ask, ‘Yet you are still alive?’
I answer, ‘Ask no more. Read …’
Jack Ireland was best boy to the captain of ‘Charles Eaton’ a sailing ship in the 1830s. He thinks well of himself, perhaps a little too well. Even before the ship has pulled anchor, he has to revise his thinking and become a little more humble. But his life aboard ship is easier than many of the the crew and some of the passengers. The ‘Charles Eaton’ travels to Australia and delivers its load before heading north into the Torres Strait. There they are shipwrecked and Jack’s real adventure begins. Their boats are wrecked and passengers and some crew set out on a raft. Jack begins to show his mettle as the remaining crew seek food and build a second raft. They discover tropical paradise islands and encounter indigenous islanders. These are traders. Jack doesn’t need to understand their language to realise that he and others are tradeable.
Fourteen-year-old Jack Ireland is determined to tell his own tale. Others have told it, he says, but not as truly as he can himself. He finds himself with ‘ink in his veins’ and able to travel through and reference all the books he’s read. And having been the Captain’s best boy, he’s read his way through the Captain’s vast library. More than this, he’s read through many other books throughout time, both before and after his shipwreck. He quotes from books written about the ‘Charles Eaton’ and about himself. He acknowledges where they get it right, but mostly he feels that he is not well-represented, or not well enough. He seeks to set the tale straight. ‘Voicing the Dead’ is based on a real shipwreck, Jack Ireland was one of the survivors, but this story is fiction, a revisiting of the journey leading to the shipwreck and the time afterwards. The reader looking for adventure will find rewards here, as will the historian and literature buff. This is a complex and rich novel, full of intrigue and sensory detail. Recommended for mature secondary-aged readers.
Voicing the Dead, Gary Crew
Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925272055
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller