I’m up to date with Jess Kidd’s four adult titles. Two strong four star works, “Himself” (2016) and “The Hoarder” (2018) paved the way for her triumphant five star Victorian London-set work “Things In Jars” (2019) which ended up in my Top 10 Books Of The Year for 2019. I also had the pleasure of interviewing her for Issue 90 of NB magazine when her debut was published so I was very pleased to receive this pre-publication copy of her latest.
We have a dual time setting, firstly the 1628 voyage of a Dutch boat, The Batavia, setting sail towards the place it was named after (now Jakarta) with young Mayken on board accompanied by her nursemaid Imke. The ultimate destination is a father Mayken does not know, following the death of her mother. Running alongside this is a strand from 1989 where Gil arrives at Beacon Island on the Australian West Coast to live with a grandfather he barely knows following the death of his mother. These characters are mirrored beautifully in the early stages and it is not long before we discover Beacon Island is where the survivors of the Batavia shipwreck ended up. Ghosts always have a part to play in Jess Kidd’s novels, here their influence is quite subtle with the echoes of the events of the past constantly just nudging the twentieth century Australians. Both Mayken and Gil are great characters and both become touched by supernatural elements and the folklore of sea monsters.
Jess Kidd is using the real events and people of the ill-fated Batavia voyage. What I really love about this author’s work is how the history sparks her into imaginative realms. This was especially so in “Things In Jars” where the developments in medicine were seamlessly incorporated into a gripping mystery novel. I think here her desire to follow the events of what actually happened as a tribute to those who perished in the seventeenth century have stopped this from taking flight in quite the same way. The child’s imaginations of a sea monster being present for Mayken feels a little stodgy for Gil who comes across the story of the Bunyip in a discarded book.
These are minor gripes about what is, if not an Essential five star read like “Things In Jars”, a strong novel which shows how well Jess Kidd is developing as a storyteller and historian. This is my second favourite of her four novels and should continue to enhance her reputation as one of our most effervescent writers.
The Night Ship will be published by Canongate on 11th August 2022. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.