Into the World…
In the midst of the French Revolution, in 1791, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before thrusting him into the arms of her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.
Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.
Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?
Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.
What an extraordinary adventure this novel offers its reader. Fiction inspired by fact, debut Australian author Stephanie Parkyn offers us a tantalising version of one woman’s history under the shadow of the French Revolution. When revolutionary Marie-Louise Victoire Girardin finds herself destitute and left with an illegitimate baby, she reluctantly leaves her newborn and sets sail disguised as a man to work as a steward on a ship commissioned for rescue and exploration in the Great Southern Ocean.
Now, all of this is historical fact: Marie – who she was and what she did, the ship, the mission, even many of the supporting characters. While the author has created a version of history that is fictitious, she does so with a level of authenticity that would be difficult to challenge. And this novel tells so much more than Girardin’s story. It’s an account of the French Revolution from the perspective of a revolutionary and a woman, oppressed and without rights entirely. It tells of early exploration of the southern ocean, such an incredible undertaking, in an era so early within the global history of exploration. I loved the replication of the miniature of life on a ship: diseased and rotting flesh, the rodents, the fetid water and vermin infested provisions; living in such close quarters for so long, enemies and friends alike. Stephanie has created an incredible story that I was hard pressed to put down each night.
The emotional investment I had in Girardin’s story was extremely high. The challenges of a woman disguised as a man being on board a ship full of men were not played down and it was this frank realism that set this story up for success. I enjoyed the relationships Girardin formed over the course of the journey and found myself frequently affected emotionally by these attachments. But it was most definitely Girardin’s observations of the journey and the places they encountered that elevated this novel to a unique height:
“They see us shoot their birds, take their water and chop down trees to mend our boats. We give nothing in exchange for that. She saw that no one, neither the officers nor the naturalists, understood. It did not occur to them to offer payment for their trespasses. To take the necessities of life from this land was as natural to them as breathing.”
Girardin’s position as an oppressed member of her own society seemed to afford her the clarity of observation that her fellow travellers were devoid of.
There wasn’t a page of this novel that I didn’t enjoy. Into the World is an excellent novel of historical fiction: based on enough fact to be plausible blended with enough fiction to ensure an engaging story right the way through. Stephanie Parkyn offers an exciting new voice to Australian literature and I am so looking forward to reading more from her in the future – very near future, I hope!
And now, to end, I will leave this review with my favourite line:
“The tide washes the beach clean every day.”
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy Into the World for review.
Into the World is book 73 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.