With 516 pages read of David Copperfield and 274 to go we are dependent on our evening reads for variety. Drift by William Mayne couldn't have offered a much stronger contrast to Dickens.
I found the title recommended on a bibliography of historical fiction for children and, although I'd never heard of the author before, had soon secured my copy for a matter of pence second hand from Amazon. Whilst waiting for it (and a few other irresistable purchases) to arrive I looked up William Mayne and found that he had written over 60 books, so that if we enjoyed this one, there would be plenty more to enjoy.
Drift promised to be an adventure story about a european boy and a native american girl floating on an ice floe somewhere non-specific in North America. So the blurb promised, accurately enough, but there is far more to this story. The characters and their stories soon diverge. After Tawena flees, we are left to hear the adventure from Rafe's perspective as he is captured or saved by two native american women who are either taking him to a settlement to sell as a slave or to return home safely.
The writing style is sparse to say the least. Mayne is very clever at giving us the character's thoughts in a realistically erratic, confused way. There were times when I was not quite sure what was happening. Initially I thought it was simply badly written, but I came to feel that it was quite the inverse as we shared Rafe's confusion as he struggled to adapt to the harshness of his environment and companions.
Just when you've given up on Tawena, her voice returns and we turn back the clock to hear how she has survived in the freezing wilderness. There is little sentimentality on the part of either child and no attempt to explain every term used or belief held, such as Tawaena's encounter with Bigfoot. It is just accepted as we are seeing this from her point of view and she doesn't question the existence of the reclusive figure. There is certainly no glossary to explain local terms, most of which we can understand by context, or guess at, much as Rafe has to.
It seems that, not for the first time, my kids were less confused than I was by the plot or at least less bothered by any confusion. We will be looking out for other such titles by Mayne. Through his clipped style he manages paradoxically to at least suggest a depth of character in contrast to Dicken's minutely observed detail of speech and highly nuanced interactions. I wouldn't put him on a par with Dickens but it is interesting to see how authors use such different means to convey convincing, compelling characters.
Whilst searching for an appropriate bibliographical link on Mayne for this blog I came across information about his conviction and jail term for child abuse in 2004. All references to this raised the issue of whether one should continue to read the work of such a person? Does the work stand alone, apart from the creator? I wouldn't avoid reading his books now that I am aware of this, however I must admit that I wish I didn't know. Sorry as I have now brought it to the attention of anyone reading this, but I felt it was likely to become apparent as soon as anyone searched for further information about William Mayne. There is further discussion on this issue in the following Guardian column which seems to raise the key points.