Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion

silverWhatever happened to ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’?

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

There is always a difficulty in writing a sequel to a much-loved classic in that comparisons will naturally be drawn. Motion has made a brave attempt and to some degree has pulled it off successfully.

Jim and Natty, son and daughter of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, set off to find the rest of the treasure still left on the island. The book, as you would expect from a previous Poet Laureate, is beautifully written with the descriptions of the sea and the natural world standing out in particular. I didn’t spot any glaring inconsistencies in plot between the original and this follow-on. The story is interesting and in places exciting and is greatly enhanced by the excellent, primitive-style illustrations by Joe McLaren. As a stand-alone novel I would rate this as a very good adventure yarn.

‘I found each wave, instead of being the big, smooth glassy mountain it seems from shore, was full of peaks and smooth plains and valleys. Very often a school of dolphins appeared among these slopes and summits, giving the impression – thanks to the curved lines of their mouths – that they kept us company, and leaped in and out of the waves, for no reasons except their own pleasure and our entertainment. Sometimes we watched a piece of driftwood, or a tonsured head that turned out to be a coconut, tumble over and over in the swell: no great thing in itself, but in the heat of midday, with a soft wind blowing, and the deck sweetly rolling, enough to induce a kind of trance.’

Andrew Motion (telegraph.co.uk)
Andrew Motion
(telegraph.co.uk)

However, and for me it’s a big however, the whole style and tone of the book is hugely different from the original. Instead of yo-ho-ho sailors willing to mutiny for gold, we have a preternaturally good, obedient and frankly left-liberal crew. Anti-slavery, anti-violence, animal welfare types, willing to put treasure second to the rights of man? And whiling the evenings away by singing love-songs? All very noble, and designed, I assume, to remind us that the sequel is set during the Enlightenment, but hardly in tune with the original. And I doubt that seamen had adopted Enlightenment values with quite such enthusiasm over such a short period of time.

When I knew this book was coming out, I re-read Treasure Island and commented that I had forgotten what a rollicking good yarn it is. This sequel, while a good read on its own account, doesn’t capture that feel for me. This is a very sanitised, very 21st century take on adventure – I was hoping for more

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

but got instead

“Do you miss me, sweet ladies,
Do you keep me in your heart?
As for me, I’m always with you,
Never mind how far apart.”

So overall I found this a very good book but not a great sequel. However, even with this caveat, the plot, the illustrations and, most of all, the excellent descriptive prose make this a book well worth reading. Recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

11 thoughts on “Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion

  1. Interesting and well-written review, for which thanks. You’ve highlighted one of the real difficulties with writing a story that’s set in another time and place. The mindset of that era and of the people has to be taken into consideration or the characters just don’t seem to ring quite true. I am glad you found this a good read though, and of course as you say, that’d be expected from Motion.

    • Thanks for commenting, Margot. Yes, and it’s even more obvious when a book is set up as a sequel and yet the overall tone is so different. I often wonder why authors choose to write sequels to much-loved classics. It seems very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off really successfully.

  2. Oh my, lefty liberal sailors singing sweet ditties. Do they floss their teeth daily, too? I just can’t will myself to want to read this one. My husband has read every Patrick O-Brien book and Treasure Island, and they’re decidedly unsanitized..

    • …and use deodorant! They’d probably make nicer dinner guests than Long John Silver, but not nearly as much fun when having a good ol’ knees-up on an desert island. 😉

  3. Your very mixed critique does not encourage me to rush to buy it. One of my pet hates is books set in the past where characters adopt PC 21st century values.

    • It’s a shame, really, because if this had been a stand-alone adventure novel without the links to Treasure Island the change in attitudes probably wouldn’t have shown up so sharply. I hope whatever he writes next isn’t tied to a classic, because his prose is really excellent.

  4. I have to admit that I have never read any of Andrew Motion’s fiction and after reading your review I don’t think I will be in any great hurry to do so. But, I have read two of his biographies, Philip Larkin and John Keats, and they were excellent.

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