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House of Cards,
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This review is from: The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe (Kindle Edition)
I was hoping for a story that was equal parts botany, voyaging, and the intrigue of concealing one's gender in the confines of a relatively small ship. Unfortunately, it is primarily about the latter.
The author imputes so many thoughts and actions to the main character, Baret, as well as captain Bougainville and her master, Commerson, that it almost feels like a novel at times. Other authors might have used the same source material and come with an entirely different character and story line.
At one point she accuses historians of essentially sticking to the facts as presented in the various journals that exist rather than reporting "what so clearly happened." In other words, although there is no evidence to support her hypothesis, we readers are supposed to accept the author's opinion as the obvious truth. If this sounds vague it's that I don't wish to interject a spoiler. All I will say is that after reading the source material which she quotes, I could just have easily accepted the source version of the events as what in the author's mind "clearly did happen."
Once the author takes the leap of faith in her theory she proceeds to base the rest of the story on it as if it were fact, going so far to use the lack of support in any of the journals as proof of a conspiracy to conceal the "truth" of the dastardly event. She even puts thoughts in Bougainville's mind as to decisions he made but shared with no one, not even his journal. The length of the chain of supporting suppositions becomes truly amazing. Essentially, it is a house of cards, pull one out and it all falls down.
The author seems quite content to make up or assume facts in other areas as well. She states that the reason the crews had no luck catching fish was that they "were too far from both the continental island of New Guinea and the volcanic islands of the South Pacific to stand any chance of catching anything." Tuna and mahi-mahi abound in the open ocean. We have caught both of these types of fish in the very waters the author speaks of. It is more likely that the crews did not know how to catch pelagic species. It requires a lure be towed on the surface within a certain range of speeds. It was so easy to catch these fish we only fished when we had room in the freezer.
In the end she does an excellent job of tying up all the loose ends in her epilogue where she details what happened to all the major characters after the conclusion of the expedition.
Had the author either stuck to the facts and labeled her opinions and hypotheses as such, or had she, in the tradition of Irving Stone, chosen the write an historical novel, free to impute thoughts, actions and characteristics to her characters, I could have enjoyed the book. But as such, it only made me angry to see her disparage historians and their code of relating and interpreting historical events, rather than creating them from wisps of smoke.
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Initial post: Nov 22, 2012 9:10:19 AM PST
R. Kay says:
"The Discovery of Jeanne Baret"
A thoughtful and factual critique: Given the scarcity of documented facts, this would have worked better as a historical novel. To read someones mind in the absence of any written record by that person is too much of a stretch.
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