By Andrew Motion
Published by Jonathan Cape
ISBN 978 0 224 09119 0
Treasure Island is a much-loved adventure novel written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883. It tells the story of young Jim Hawkins who joins a gang of adventurers that sets sail to look for treasure on an island. Stevenson's novel contains one of the most famous fictional characters ever created, the pirate Long John Silver, who became the model for almost all fictional pirates, in books or on screen, from then on.
Andrew Motion, a well-respected English poet and novelist, has taken on a mammoth task in writing a sequel to the classic novel. Motion begins Silver several decades after Jim returns to England a rich man and Long John Silver vanishes into South America's jungles.
The narrator of Silver is teenager Jim Hawkins Jnr, who lives with his father in an inn on the banks of the River Thames just outside London. Jim loves exploring the marshes around his home, and listening to his dad's endless stories about his adventures on Treasure Island. Jim knows that his father has a map of the island; he knows also that not all the treasure was removed from its hiding place all those years ago.
One moonlit night, a lone boat pulls up at the jetty near the Hawkins' inn. On board is a strange teenage girl who has come looking for young Jim. She is Natty, the daughter of Long John Silver, who now also keeps an inn on the Thames. Silver has sent Natty with a proposal for the son. John Silver will supply a ship and crew to return to Treasure Island for the rest of the loot, if Jim agrees to get his father's map and sail to the island.
The opening of Silver is full of possibilities and suspense. Young Jim and Natty make an attractive pair of wannabe adventurers. As expected, Jim sets off for Treasure Island without telling his father. Motion is a wonderfully visual writer, and the opening chapters of Silver are packed with classy descriptive prose and detail.
Once Natty and Jim set sail for the Caribbean, the plot takes off at a rate of knots. There are tensions during the voyage that might bode badly for what will happen when the ship reaches its destination. Once on Treasure Island, Jim and Natty find the island inhabited by the three treasure-seekers left behind by the original expedition.
But these three sailors have become brutes, terrorising and enslaving the passengers of a wrecked ship that foundered on the island many years ago. Natty and Jim are now faced with two enormous tasks, one of which they never expected. They have to locate the treasure and get it off the island, but also they have to defeat the three sadistic "rulers" of the territory and rescue the slaves.
Silver might lack some of the swashbuckling adventure of the original, but it is an exciting sequel that mirrors Stevenson's novel in terms of thrills, yet remains fresh and creative.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com