Tom Keneally’s latest book, “Napoleon’s Last Island”, was published in late October. Tom Keneally has written many books, among them “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith” and “Schindler’s List” which were made into films. I think his latest work would make a good film too!
The book at first seems to tell a curious tale. It’s an historical novel based on fact. “Napoleon’s Last Island” traces the story of Napoleon’s exile on the island of St Helena, and the friendships and bonds he made with people there. Tom Keneally was inspired to write this story when he visited an exhibition about Napoleon Bonaparte at the National Gallery of Victoria. At that exhibition, he found relics of Napoleon that had belonged to a family which had migrated to Australia. Keneally, upon seeing these, mused, “Someone called Betsy was a familiar of the Emperor? And ended up in Australia?” And so his research began, and the story born.
The book opens in a time period after the time period of the main story, and then jumps back in time to where it all began. I did have to persist past the first few pages which I found a little confusing, but this introduction works to hook you in enough to continue. It is a story that marries intrigue, political machinations, jealousy, family life, history, love, lust, loss and grief. Yes, it’s all there!
The story is told through the eyes of Betsy, a precocious, vivacious and intelligent young girl who is three when she arrives on the island and in her teens when she leaves. Her family, a British family and therefore an enemy of
Napoleon it would seem, ends up befriending him. In the insular, isolated community of the island and the proximity of Napoleon’s lodgings, it was inevitable that interactions with the island inhabitants would occur. What happens as a result of these interactions has far-reaching consequences for all involved.
It’s a book that takes you on a rollicking journey. And it is worth it just to read Tom Keneally, for his wonderful use of language. A good book to get stuck into for the holidays.