Saturday, May 12, 2012

Down under

One shouldn’t go too long without a visit with Jack.  At the same time, however, one’s familiarity with Jack can make one a bit impatient – how much more is one (or is Jack, for that matter) expected to endure before her saga comes to a satisfying close?  Are we in The Wheel of Time territory (14 and counting and he’s been dead for five years!)? During my last visit with Jack, I listened to an interview between Jack’s creator, L.A. Meyer, and her interpreter, Katherine Kellgren, which led me to the somewhat horrifying conclusion that there were many more Jacks to come before wrapping things up. 

This makes me ponder, briefly, about who authors of young adult literature are actually writing for – if we are generous, the intended audience really only hangs around for 10 years at the most, so is there any point in going on and on … and on?  Is Meyer writing for we elderly young adults, willing to keep reading whatever he churns out year after year?  There is no doubt that things in this eighth installment in Bloody Jack’s adventures, The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber on Her Way to Botany Bay have taken a decidedly more adult turn, even though our beloved heroine is still just going on 17.  This is most definitely not an all-ages car trip kind of audiobook. 

Jacky secured her fortune while assisting the British Navy in salvaging the wreck of a Spanish ship in the Caribbean during her last adventure.  She just neglected to tell them of all the extra gold she brought to the surface and tucked away in the hold of her own vessel.  She’s purchased her own ship, the Lorelei Lee (whose buxom figurehead bears a not-coincidental resemblance to our heroine), and – hardworking girl that she is – plans on running a for-profit but not exploitative emigration service from Ireland to the United States.  A quick stop in London leads to her arrest by the British Secret Services (a government change means that her friends are no longer in charge), who toss her into Newgate Prison to await trial for treason.  Her death sentence is commuted to deportation for life to the penal colony in New South Wales

In an ironic turn of events, the Lorelei Lee is confiscated by the government for the purposes of transporting a ship full of female convicts, Jacky included.  Most of the other convicts are prostitutes, and the very convivial captain encourages fraternization between crew and passengers (since he’ll earn even more payment per live passenger if she’s pregnant upon arrival), but Jacky quickly figures out a way to keep body and soul together without resorting to the world’s oldest profession.  It helps that her loyal friend Higgins has managed to come aboard as assistant purser, but Jacky’s irrepressible personality saves her as always.

Then there’s Jaimy, Jacky’s beloved, who is also convicted of treason and transport to Australia.  His ship, the Cerberus, is not the fun cruise Jacky is enjoying on the Lorelei Lee, and the boy finally shows some backbone as he attempts to wrest control of the vessel and meet up with Jacky in the penal colony.  Add to the mix Chinese pirates, burial at sea, salvaging a giant gold Buddha, cultural insensitivity in depicting the goddess Kali, a marriage of convenience, attempted rape, several murders (always of bad people, of course), the cat o’ nine tails, a miscarriage, the doldrums, a new tattoo and even a discreet lesbian interlude.  Whatever next, you ask?  Typhoon, anyone?

Does it sound like I don’t like Jack?  Maybe I’m a little tired of her, but I’ve got to admit that her hijinks just keep on surprising me.  The novels’ pattern stays the same (just one last thing to do before she and Jaimy can marry, and whoops! fate intervenes), but the vagaries of fate continue to entertain. 

It’s likely I’d have thrown in the towel long ago were I reading these to myself, because a large part – dare I say, 99% – of the enjoyment here is due to narrator Kellgren.  She throws herself into these novels with unflagging enthusiasm and her prodigious talents for storytelling, acting and singing.  Here is no exception; in fact, it seemed like she was working even harder (it might also have been the contrast between this narration and the one I listened to immediately beforehand – a very subdued narration of a 1960s literary masterpiece [I’ve stored up this review for Audiobook Week]).  Jacky was more vivid, Jaimy certainly came into his own (finally showing himself worthy of his fiancée), and the novel’s huge cast each made an impression – the raucous madams, the hard-partying captain, the sadistic captain on Jaimy’s ship, his Irish fellow convicts, Jacky’s posse of young Newgate denizens, the imperturbable Higgins (who gets a tad perturbed), a young Indian boy rescued from a mob in Bombay, a glamorous Chinese lady pirate and the Italian Jesuit who translates for her; and many, many more.  Kellgren sings, of course – one of the ongoing treats of these audiobooks – and I particularly enjoyed how she sang both as Jacky and as various other characters. 

I’m thrilled to see that I am almost caught up with these.  Book the Tenth is not due out until October, which gives me five months to slip in The Mark of the Golden Dragon.  About that typhoon …

["The Landing of the Convicts at Botany Bay" is a print from Watkin Tench's A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, first published in 1789.  This image was posted to Wikimedia Commons by Gaston Renard.]

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber on Her Way to Botany Bay by L.A. Meyer
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Listen and Live Audio, 2010.  14:55  

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