Andrew Motion,
Silver: Return to Treasure Island
(Crown, 2012)

Some things, you just know.

Like, for instance, that Andrew Motion loves Robert Louis Stevenson's classic yarn, Treasure Island. His new novel, Silver: Return to Treasure Island, is a rollicking good homage to the original, both in his adaptation of familiar settings to his use of a similar prose style.

Silver, though a thoroughly enjoyable read, is no Treasure Island. It's a very good book and one I'll recommend, but it's no classic.

Our protagonist, Jim Hawkins, is the son of the original Jim, who has not fared so well since the end of his adventures a few decades ago. Young Jim helps his father out at the tavern he runs outside London and seems content with his lot -- until Natty, the equally young daughter of none other than Long John Silver, comes a-calling.

Silver, ancient and decrepit, has conceived a plan for the two youngsters to sail back to Treasure Island and claim the silver left behind. It sounds simple, but of course if it was an easy task, there'd be little point to the novel. There is plenty to stand in Jim and Natty's way, not the least of which is the three sailors marooned on the island back in the day.

They're still there. They're not happy men. And they're not alone.

The book is, at times, overly brutal, and some readers will recoil from Motion's descriptions of rape and torture. Most of the novel is an utter pleasure to read, however -- Motion, a former Poet Laureate of England, has a knack for colorful writing, which he uses to good effect here.

But certain developments are overly predictable. Some of the characters seem fascinating but are never fully developed. Natty pays the heaviest price here -- she seems like there's some interesting back story here, but we'll never know -- but there are others on the voyage who give us glimpses of depth that are unplumbed.

And the dramatic conclusion felt less like a well-thought out denouement than it did an effort to, well, wrap things up. The end feels forced, and weak.

Motion needed a strong editor to send him back to rework some parts and completely rewrite others. With another draft or two, Silver could have become a classic, too.

book review by
Tom Knapp

17 August 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new