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Henderson's Spear: A Novel Hardcover – March 5, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is clearly a family affair. Imprisoned in Tahiti, where she has gone to look for the father missing since the Korean War, Liv contemplates an ancestor who sailed the South Seas with Queen Victoria's grandsons. And she's writing a letter to the child she gave up at birth.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: John MacRae Books
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (March 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069968
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069969
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,939,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rebecca Brown on March 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A Canadian filmaker writes from a Tahitian jail to her unknown daughter she gave up at birth, of her troubled past & her family's buried history. In the search for her father, a pilot missing since the Korean War, Liv travels to Polynesia his last known whereabouts, & winds up behind bars on a trumped-up murder charge.
It is that long-forgotten child's note, received while in jail, that brings up Liv's childhood memories. HENDERSON'S SPEAR is a love letter from a woman who never thought of herself as a mother, to her now 20 year old daughter.
Ronald Wright tells of the history of the end of the Korean War & the French & American atomic bomb testing on the atolls of that vast ocean. He keenly describes the affects of the fallout, the use of pilots to photograph the explosions, & the islanders' memories of being guinea pigs; uncovering an era we would all rather forget - what hell we brought to paradise!...
This novel is like a treasure chest found on a desert island, in which you will uncover all sorts of histories; Herman Melville's meanderings before he wrote MOBY DICK; South Sea Island cultures - past & present; how Darwin's theory of evolution affected his contemporaries; how Queen Victoria's grandsons were groomed for public life; how one man's memories of a life in the service of his country affects another's two generations later & so much more!
Normally such yarns have a male protagonist & this one is refreshing & unusual as the Reader listens to what a woman has to say about the affairs of the heart & our ancestors. Ronald Wright has woven out of the threads of history, a compelling story of the ghosts people carry with them. HENDERSON'S SPEAR is a tapestry of depth & intrigue, affection & redemption.
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Format: Hardcover
In this consummately romantic double narrative, the reader discovers in the first hundred words (!) that the speaker is Olivia Wyvern, a 38-year-old woman falsely accused of murder and in prison in Arue, "on the far side of the world," that she has been contacted by the child she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen, and that she is writing a letter to this child.

Within the first ten pages, Wright efficiently involves the reader in further details of Olivia's life, as she muses over the death of her mother "over a parrot" and reminisces about the old house in which the family has lived for 200 years, a house loaded with documents, letters, and artifacts, including a strange, 14' long ebony spear, supposedly an assegai from Africa. We find out that Olivia's mother was disowned, that she never revealed information about her family background, and that Olivia's father was declared missing in Korea. In a locked box Olivia has found five notebooks written by Frank Henderson, a former owner of the house, an adventurer who traveled around the world for three years in the late 1800's with Crown Prince Eddy and Prince George.

As Olivia Wyvern, through her letter to her daughter, and Frank Henderson, through his newly discovered journals, tell their stories in alternate chapters, the reader learns how Olivia, a film maker, came to be imprisoned in Tahiti and of her search for her father and her family history. We learn about Henderson's travels with the teenage princes through Africa in the 1880's, their search for identity, their sexual curiosity, and their mysterious three-week stop in Tahiti.

Wright pulls out all the stops in this novel, using every romantic element imaginable to pique the reader's curiosity and involve his/her emotions.
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Format: Hardcover
This literary adventure story was published in 2001 but only came to my attention this year, recommended by a friend with reliable good taste.

Two narratives are interwoven in HENDERSON'S SPEAR, told in different styles, both vividly fresh and exciting. The modern one has Olivia, a rootless young woman imprisoned in Tahiti on a murder charge, writing her life story in the form of a letter to the daughter she gave up for adoption. The ‘period’ story, 100 years earlier, is the journal of a relative of Olivia’s, Frank Henderson, who sailed the South Seas with a crew that included Princes George and Edward, Queen Victoria’s grandsons, one destined to die young, the other to marry his brother’s fiancée and be crowned in Westminster Abbey.

The Victorian/Edwardian history is very much in the style of Herman Melville who also explored – and wrote about – Polynesia. There are storms at sea and other maritime perils and wonderfully weird encounters with the newly Christianized rulers of Fiji and Tahiti. Prince Eddy’s homosexuality is not over-emphasized, although this tale has a ‘shock’ ending. Olivia’s life is a catalogue of doomed affairs: ‘I’ve never been very good at love,’ she writes to her daughter, ‘though I am working on it.’ Her ill-fated trip to Tahiti, also driven by letters, is a quest to find out what happened to her father, a pilot who failed to return from the Korean War. Abandonment is a core theme in this novel, explored with depth and poignancy.

HENDERSON'S SPEAR is in the same league as CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN or THE KITE RUNNER – novels that are impossible to categorize and a joy to read.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]
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