James Bradley Wrack: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780805061086

Wrack: A Novel

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9780805061086: Wrack: A Novel

Nominated for Australia's Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book.

David Norfolk, an archaeologist searching for a sixteenth-century Portuguese ship, long rumored to be buried beneath sand dunes of southern Australia, unearths instead the body of a man apparently murdered fifty years ago. Nearing the of his funding and absolutely desperate to find the ship, David hears about a decrepit old man named Kurt Seligman, who lies dying in a shack near the excavation site. Hoping by some chance that Seligman may know something about the location of the Portuguese ship and perhaps even about the identity of the dead man, David begins a conversation that yields a strange and impassioned tale, a cryptic confession of obsessive love and betrayal in the 1930s and '40s. Sensuous, erudite, and framed by sixteenth- and eighteenth-century maritime history and myth, Wrack spins a web of lies, sex, and regret that is as unusual as it is beautiful.

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Review:

Shipwrecks and lost loves, the Mercator projection and sand dunes, 20th-century passions and the age of exploration: this ambitious first novel by James Bradley crosses continents and centuries to explore the notion that Australia may have been discovered by the Portuguese. David is an Australian archaeologist combing sand dunes that he thinks may be hiding an ancient Portuguese ship. What he finds instead is a human body from the 1940s. An old hermit named Kurt Seligmann advances mysteriously to the fore of the narrative, voicing memories that may or may not touch on the history of this corpse. More crucially to the obsessed David, Kurt seems to possess some knowledge of the fabled sand-sunk ship. As the old man slips away into illness, David's former lover, Dr. Claire Sen, joins him at his bedside vigil. David and Claire find their own doomed story subtly twinned in Kurt's tale of obsession and love in wartime Australia.

Genuinely gripping, ingeniously plotted, and always convincingly researched, Bradley's novel has plenty of propulsive intelligence to keep the reader hooked. Bradley's first book was a volume of award-winning poetry, and he brings a poet's aptitude for language and repeated images to Wrack. Sometimes, however, this preoccupation hamstrings an otherwise compelling adventure tale. Imagery of shards crops up incessantly, which is perhaps a bit literal-minded for a novel with an archaeologist protagonist. "A memory, or perhaps less than a memory, a shard, a fragment" is a typical (fragmented) sentence--not very helpful prose and not even very nice poetry. If a book is going to invoke Michael Ondaatje as heavily as this one does, it needs to deliver more compelling writing. Still, fans of The English Patient--and Dava Sobel's Longitude, for that matter--should find much to admire in Bradley's cleverly looped and configured tale of ships at sea and lovers in sand.

From the Back Cover:

Erotic, sensuous and erudite, Wrack spins a web of lies, sex and betrayal in a novel that is as unusual as it is beautiful. While searching for the wreck of a Portuguese ship which could rewrite the history of Australia, archaeologist David Norfolk stumbles upon a corpse buried 50 years before. Determined to understand its connection to the ship, David uncovers a story of obsession, secrets and sexual passion.

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James Bradley
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