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Mutiny on the Bounty - John Boyne

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE MUTINY that took place on a relatively insignificant little ship called The Bounty has been well documented but continues to capture the imagination of both writers and filmmakers alike.

The latest offering on the subject, a book simply and aptly entitled Mutiny on the Bounty, comes from John Boyne, author of the acclaimed The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

So what, I hear you say, we’ve heard it all before. And you could be right, of course, but don’t dismiss Boyne’s excellent and thought provoking account in haste for he has broached the subject from a novel angle (no pun intended) by introducing a fictional character to his narrative – 14-year-old John Jacob Turnstile.

Rescued from the streets of Portsmouth by the odious Mr Lewis, Turnstile is forced into working as a pickpocket by day and a rent boy by night. However, his days at Mr Lewis’ establishment are numbered for when he’s caught stealing a watch and given the choice – 12 months in prison or a job as valet to an acting sea captain – Turnstile opts for the latter, little knowing what’s in store. For the captain is none other than William Bligh… his ship, The Bounty.

What follows is a detailed account of life aboard The Bounty, the long sojourn on Tahiti with all its earthly delights, the mutiny itself and, in a departure from normal, the extraordinary 3,618 nautical mile voyage of The Bounty’s launch – all as seen through the eyes of young Turnstile.

Although his style is relatively simple, Boyne undoubtedly has a gift for storytelling, one that is guaranteed to keep pages turning. Moreover, the introduction of the fictional Turnstile, a young scamp if ever there was, is pure genius.

His descriptions of shipboard incidents, such as the initiation rite for those crossing the Equator for the first time, will make you gasp in horror yet at the same time elicit a chuckle or two. While his revelations of the hardships endured aboard the open launch will bring tears to your eyes.

But more importantly, he enables us to see Bligh in a more kindly light and not as Hollywood depicts him – only Anthony Hopkins came close in The Bounty – and to appreciate his courage and skill in bringing his fellow castaways to safety. As for Christian, usually the hero of the piece, he’s depicted as something of a dandy who was far too preoccupied with his own appearance for the good of the ship.

Boyne has, of course, researched his story through sundry books and the transcripts of the various trials that were held in relation to The Bounty mutiny, so Mutiny on the Bounty is no idle work of fiction but an attempt to put the record straight, not in a purely factual tome but in a highly entertaining novel. So, if you think you know The Bounty’s story, think again.

As for young Turnstile, he matures into a fine young man who eventually lays the demons that so cruelly haunted his adolescence to rest. And believe me, you’ll cheer when he does. All of which makes this a book not to be missed.

The Bounty by Caroline Alexander is one of the books Boyne used for his research. Read our review