Henderson's Spear: A Novel

Henderson's Spear: A Novel

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by Ronald Wright

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A masterly epic that weaves a contemporary search for a missing father with a vivid story from the heyday of the British Empire.

Liv, a Canadian filmmaker, is writing from a Tahitian jail, piecing together her troubled past and her family's buried history for the unknown daughter she gave up at birth. The search for her own father, a pilot missing since the

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A masterly epic that weaves a contemporary search for a missing father with a vivid story from the heyday of the British Empire.

Liv, a Canadian filmmaker, is writing from a Tahitian jail, piecing together her troubled past and her family's buried history for the unknown daughter she gave up at birth. The search for her own father, a pilot missing since the Korean War, has brought her to the South Seas and landed her behind bars on a trumped-up murder charge. In the stillness of her cell, Liv ponders the secret journal of her ancestor Frank Henderson, who came to these same waters a century before on an extraordinary three-year voyage with Queen Victoria's grandsons--Prince George (later George V) and Prince Eddy, who would die young and disgraced, linked by the gutter press to the Ripper killings and many other scandals.

Through unforgettable characters and a mesmerizing story, Henderson's Spear traces two tales of obsession, intrigue, and loss--from the 1890s and the 1990s. These stories reach around the world from Africa, England, and North America to converge with compelling effect in the Polynesian islands.

With a deep understanding of the landscape and culture of the South Sea Islands, Ronald Wright's Henderson's Spear explores the patterns of history and the accidents of love.

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Editorial Reviews

John Spurling
. . . Henderson's Spear is an intriguing,warm-toned,well-written and spirited novel,a credit to its tradition.
Times Literary Supplement [London]
Len Gasparini
Henderson's Spear [is] a Gauguin canvas and a volcanic tremor of a novel.
Toronto Star
Publishers Weekly
Richly imagined and crisply written, this second novel by Wright (A Scientific Romance) sails from England to Polynesia and back again, spanning a full century in its peregrinations. At its core is the memoir of one Frank Henderson, a young officer who accompanies Crown Prince Edward and his brother, George, on their round-the-world voyage in 1879. The trip comes to a climax in the Tahitian Islands, where Edward becomes involved in a homosexual relationship with an islander, who he brutally murders. Counterpointing this intriguing plot is a long and highly improbable epistle penned in 1990 by Olivia Wyvern, daughter of a British flyer declared MIA during the Korean conflict. Following her mother's death, Olivia discovers evidence that her father did not die, but rather wound up on Taiohae, the same island where Henderson's adventures brought him and where Herman Melville's earliest novel, Typee, is set. Obsessed with locating her father, Olivia travels to the South Seas, where in a series of misadventures of her own, she is imprisoned on trumped-up murder charges. While in prison, she receives an anonymous letter from a daughter she gave up for adoption when she was only 16, a child sired by a mysterious stranger claiming to have evidence of her father's whereabouts, and she begins writing to the daughter, relating all this from her cell. Binding these disparate stories together is a spear, ostensibly brought by Henderson from Africa, but actually a souvenir of his Polynesian adventures. Romantic but unsentimental, this is a beautifully constructed story with fascinating characters and authentic details that play off one another in surprising and often shocking ways. The thematic homage to Melville is punctuated with other literary allusions that enrich and deepen an already thoroughly engrossing tale of the South Pacific. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Wright's experience as a travel and history writer (Stolen Continents) is evident in his second novel, set in Africa, England, and the South Pacific. Liv, an English-born Canadian filmmaker and daughter of a pilot who went missing in the Korean War, is herself the mother of a daughter given up for adoption. When Liv finds herself in a Tahitian jail on trumped-up charges related to the death of a young woman, she decides to describe for her daughter her own search for the truth behind her father's disappearance and, as it turns out, the discovery of her true identity. Much of the story hinges on the secret journal of an ancestor, Frank Henderson, who as a young naval officer had accompanied Queen Victoria's grandsons on a voyage to the South Seas and whose spear hung on the wall at Liv's childhood home. The story combines history, adventure, romance, and mystery in one marvelous amalgam. It belongs on the shelves of even the smallest public libraries and might also serve to re-spark an interest in Melville's South Sea tales in academic settings. Very highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/01.] David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A grand family saga, played out over several centuries, continents, and oceans, from novelist and nature writer Wright (A Scientific Romance, 1998, etc.). In April 1990, Olivia Wyvern writes to the daughter she placed for adoption years ago of the events that led to her incarceration in Tahiti. Liv's father, an RAF pilot who served in the Korean War, disappeared during a mission over the Yalu; his family lived ever after in a state of emotional suspended animation. As a young woman, Liv was so desperate for news of her father that she even allowed herself to be seduced by an imposter who claimed to have come upon evidence of his fate-which is why she gave up the resulting baby. Sorting out the old family house after her mother died, Liv discovered a journal written by the previous owner, a childless relation who spent much of his life abroad as a naval officer. The journal, she states, reveals "the wheel of cause and effect, set in motion by Frank Henderson, which has rolled down upon our lives through a century." It relates Henderson's adventures at sea and on land, foremost among them being the three years he spent aboard the HMS Bacchante in the company of two royals: dissolute Prince Eddy, grandson of Queen Victoria and heir presumptive to the throne, and his younger brother Prince George, who in fact became King George V in 1910. The story from Henderson's pages is framed by Liv's own, more private drama. She's in Tahiti searching for the truth behind her father's disappearance when she's arrested on bogus murder and espionage charges. Then she receives word of her long-lost daughter. It never rains but it pours-in Britain and the South Seas, at least. Despite quite a few plotsunfolding at the same time, the author manages to keep all his balls in the air at once and never lets the pace lag. Well done indeed.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt

So this won't be that kind of letter. What I can give you, for now, is my story. And in return I hope someday you'll give me yours. I'll try to stick to the point, though it doesn't come easily-my mind's a sackful of cats and they're all clawing their way out at once. Be patient while I let them go in an order that makes sense, at least to me. Mine isn't the usual tale of a girlish mistake with a pimply boy in the bicycle shed. This stretches across a hundred years and half the world. I'll start with me, but you must hear from Frank Henderson too. I'm enclosing copies of his papers. More than a century ago, when he was about your age, he sailed to the South Seas aboard a warship. It's ultimately because of him that I'm here now.

We seem a family of writers-diarists, memoirists-the kind with secrets to dribble onto paper and hoard away. For whom, I wonder. For posterity? Or as a form of exorcism? Of course you may decide, after reading what I have to say, that you want nothing to do with me. How far can we go with genes; do they call to one another like the deeps? Damn the genes, let me choose my friends, and to hell with blood relations. I can hear myself saying something like that in your position. That's your right, and if it's your choice I'll respect it. But if ever you change your mind, know that I'll never hide from you again.

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