The New World by Andrew Motion

the new worldConflicted…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

At the end of Silver: Return to Treasure Island, Jim and Natty had been shipwrecked on the coast of Texas in the year 1803. We rejoin them at the start of this one as they are trying to recover the bodies of their companions, when suddenly they are discovered by a scavenging party of Indians from a local tribe. Taken prisoner, they are held captive and know that they are doomed to die. Granted an opportunity to escape, they take it – and also take something that doesn’t belong to them; something so important that the leader of the tribe, Black Cloud, and his evil henchman will hunt them down to recover it…

Although this is a continuation of a continuation of Treasure Island, in fact, it has nothing to do with Robert Louis Stevenson’s original except for Jim and Natty being the children of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver respectively. Motion makes this fairly clear himself by metaphorically getting rid of Stevenson in the first chapter, along with the all-important silver from the original and the first follow-up. In one sense, this works, since I felt the tone of Silver was so far from the tone of Treasure Island anyway that it didn’t truly feel like a continuation, so better to draw a clear divide than to invite comparison. In another sense, it doesn’t quite work so well, because we are left with the same two rather unsatisfactory lead characters.

Apache Encampment in the Texas Hill Country by George Nelson
Apache Encampment in the Texas Hill Country by George Nelson

I’m completely conflicted about this book. Motion writes beautifully, as one would expect from a former Poet Laureate. When he’s talking about nature in particular – the wide open landscape, the animals, the birds – his prose is wonderful. And even when he’s writing action scenes, his technical skill shines through – his sudden changes of tense and shifts in style are incredibly effective at creating tension or drama. As Jim and Natty journey across the country, the various people they meet are very well drawn, many of them in a slightly caricatured way that reminded me a little of the secondary characters in a Dickens novel. His descriptions of the tragedy of the Native Americans following the arrival of the Europeans are moving without being overstated, as he shows the slow attrition of the tribes as they were driven from their lands and denied their traditional ways of life.

I woke in the air – swept up by the angels of heaven all beating their wings together and singing. Then not singing but whispering. Whistling. Cooing. Gurgling. Crooning. Because they were not angels any more, they were pigeons, the same as last night, and now leaving with their mess drizzling beneath them in a continual white rain, first with laborious flusterings and squabblings, then twisting and looping and swaying and swerving until they had formed a gigantic letter S which held its shape . . . and held its shape . . . before it slackened and became a smoke-cloud blowing towards the horizon.

Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion

On the other hand, the plot moves so slowly and I’m afraid I find both Jim and Natty deeply annoying. At risk of being drummed out of the feminist sisterhood here, this is primarily because Jim is the world’s foremost leading wimp and Natty has to perform the functions of the hero. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the woman to be a simpering miss, but then I don’t want the man to be a simpering miss either. And Jim is. He’s tortured by everything that happens to him and is completely passive throughout. He does nothing when it looks as if Natty might be going off with another man, and it never occurs to him to face up to Black Cloud rather than running and hiding. He leaves it to Natty to make all the big decisions, but then whinges when she does. And she – mean, moody, selfish, silent, but (of course) beautiful Natty – treats him appallingly at all times. Why does he love her? Why does she love him? Two books now, and I still don’t know…

The thing is though, that despite everything that annoys me about these, I know I’ll be just as keen to read the next one – and the ending makes it fairly clear that there is a next one in the pipeline. Personally, I feel Motion’s writing style would be much better suited to a different kind of story – something much more traditionally ‘literary’. He gets too moralistic and introspective about the rights and wrongs of the adventure aspects of the story – the tone just isn’t quite suited to the material. But still, I love the way he uses language, and his secondary characters, and his descriptions of nature…and so I’ll continue to put up with Jim and Natty if I must. See what I mean? Conflicted…

NB This book was provided for review by Random House Vintage.

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26 thoughts on “The New World by Andrew Motion

  1. I do indeed see what you mean, FictionFan. An elegant, absorbing writing style can’t necessarily disguise other problems with a novel. At the same time, just because a novel has weaknesses – even serious ones – doesn’t mean it has to be completely unpalatable. Not sure if I’ll read this one, but I do understand exactly what you mean.


    • Thanks, Margot – I’m glad you understand what I mean. I like his writing so much, but I just think he’s writing the wrong books. But of course, it’s all a matter of personal preference in the end… I’m sure loads of people love Jim and Natty!


  2. *laughs* So she’s mean! But…isn’t that the way? Maybe if he was a bit more respectable, she’d be nicer.

    Now, this Black Cloud has an awesome name (so does the author, btw). I would probably hunt Black Cloud.


  3. Not for me. I didn’t read the last one either. If people want to write adventure stories, good luck to them, and if Motion had just announced he was giving it a try, I would have given HIM a try – but why on earth latch onto Stevenson? Most of these so-called sequels do no credit to the original, nor to the continuer. Here endeth the day’s rant!


    • Well, I do agree really, even though I read them. But I suppose it’s no worse than all the Holmes follow-ons we read. But I do think if they’re going to do it, they should at least try to catch the tone of the originals.


  4. I would be tempted to read his passages about the dwindling of the Native Americans. That is a topic that has long haunted me. But I agree with BigSister about latching onto famous books.


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