Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars was one of my books of the year in 2019. I don’t think her new novel, The Night Ship, will achieve the same honour this year, but it’s still a book that I enjoyed very much. It takes as its starting point a real historical event – a 17th century shipwreck – and uses it to tell the stories of two children whose lives are separated by more than three hundred years.
In 1629, a nine-year-old Dutch girl, Mayken, is sailing to the Dutch East Indies aboard the Batavia, accompanied by her nursemaid. It’s a long journey and Mayken occupies herself by exploring the ship and getting to know some of the passengers and crew. When one of her new friends tells her about the legendary eel-like monster known as Bullebak, Mayken becomes convinced that Bullebak is the cause of everything bad that is happening aboard the ship and she sets out to capture the monster in a jug.
In 1989, nine-year-old Gil arrives on an island off the west coast of Australia to live with his grandfather following the death of his mother. Gil is a lonely child who has never fit in and he struggles to settle into his new life on the island. He finds some comfort in playing with his best friend, the tortoise Enkidu, and in watching the work of the scientists who have come to the island to investigate the wreck of the Batavia.
The stories of Gil and Mayken alternate throughout the novel so that we spend about the same amount of time with each of them. It soon becomes clear that although the two children are leading very different lives, there are also some parallels between them. Not only will Mayken’s ship be wrecked on Gil’s island, both children have recently lost their mother and are trying to come to terms with this. They are also both drawn to the tales of monsters who appear in their national folklore – for Mayken, it’s Bullebak, and for Gil, the Bunyip. However, I had expected the two storylines to tie together more closely at the end and was slightly disappointed that this didn’t really happen.
I knew nothing about the fate of the people on board the Batavia before I read this book and if you’re not familiar with it either I recommend not looking it up until you’ve finished. It wasn’t actually the shipwreck story that interested me the most, though – I found that I was drawn much more to Gil than to Mayken, despite Mayken’s storyline being more dramatic. Poor Gil has such a difficult time and parts of his story are heartbreaking. I should probably point out here that although both protagonists are young children, this is not a children’s book and is quite harrowing even for an adult to read! I must go back and read Jess Kidd’s earlier novels now; I meant to do that after finishing Things in Jars and never did.
Thanks to Canongate for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 39/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.
14 thoughts on “The Night Ship by Jess Kidd”
I know I’ve read a book about the Batavia, but I can’t remember what it was called!
That’s annoying! There have probably been quite a few books written about it as it was such a fascinating incident.
This looks like one to hunt for and read in due course, but I’m not sure if I want to do harrowing just now.
It’s definitely the sort of book you need to be in the right mood for.
I thought it might be. Later then …
Interesting! I’ve never heard of this author but I’ve just added her 4 books to my ‘interest’ list, so thanks…. [grin].
BTW – The first of my batch of BLCC books will be reviewed on Monday. I’m reading another one right now & expect to finish it Friday/Saturday. Review for that one in about 2-3 weeks.
I’ve been so impressed with the two Jess Kidd novels I’ve read I’ll definitely be reading her others, although they sound quite different! I’ll look forward to your BLCC reviews.
I don’t even get this book until October, although I could read it earlier in an eBook, but I think I’ll wait for my hardcopy. It sounds good. I won’t look up the Batavia.
I think it will be worth waiting for! It’s very good, I just didn’t like it as much as Things in Jars.
Well, Things in Jars was so good.
You always find such interesting books to read about occurrences in history I’ve never even heard about. This is another. 🙂
I hadn’t heard about the Batavia either until I read this book. It was really interesting to read about what happened after the shipwreck.
I am reading this at the moment. I already know what to expect because I learnt about the wreck in school. So far I am intrigued by the book.
I hope you enjoy it. I knew nothing about the wreck before reading the book, so I thought it was fascinating!