Thursday, February 8, 2018

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn - REVIEW

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn
By Rachel Edwards

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn is a rich historical novel that tells the true story of Marie Louise Giradin, a woman who, disguised as a man sailed aboard the Recherche in the late 1700s and is likely the first white woman to step foot on the island now known as Tasmania.
Louis Giradin, as she becomes known, flees a France that is caught in the grip of revolution, and she is also forced to leave behind a baby son. The novel is faithful to the passage of the vessel, which was accompanied by the Esperance and was operating under instruction both to find La Perouse, whose expedition was seemingly lost – as well as to conduct scientific research. These two competing goals provide a clear point of tension in the novel, and the characters of the military command of the vessel and the increasingly eccentric behaviour of the scientists aboard juxtapose each other well. Parkyn has a background in science (she trained as a freshwater ecologist) and the attention paid to the scientific knowledge and practice of the time is sensitive and genuinely engaging.
The French explorers on board – both scientific and military have their names are intertwined in our Tasmanian history, D’entrecastreaux, Kermandec, and Labillardiere amongst them. One of the strengths of this well written novel, is the development of the characters. The story is told from Giradin’s point of view, which offers a rare historical perspective from a woman. The scientists, captains and crew mates are all fleshed out and given voices and identifying characteristics, Labillardiere the scientist who reveals himself as difficult and driven in particular. It is fascinating, given the proximity in part to these men’s and this woman’s story that we have in Tasmania, to read them as real human beings, not just names of bays and headlands and seascapes.
What Giradin had been involved with in France to cause her to flee the country is one of the many compelling parts that drives this story. The revelation that she had grown up outside the wall of Versaille -  her father worked as a gardener there - and her involvement with the nascent revolution are fascinating counterpoints to the journey on the sea and what was involved in her role, as the ship’s steward, as well as what she had to do to keep herself disguised.
This is a book that tells of a significant moment in this history of the island we now call Tasmania, as well as a significant moment internationally: the French revolution, scientific discovery and research as well. It is a well told tale of a fascinating woman and an intriguing and sometimes terrifying journey on the sea. Stephanie Parkyn is to be congratulated on her first novel, one which is sure to find a wide, and satisfied audience. 

A version of this review was published in TasWeekends, January 2018. 

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