26 September 2023


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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Meg Keneally, Echo Publishing, $29.99.

Based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant, this is the debut novel by the daughter of Booker prize-winning Australian author Thomas Keneally.

Thomas wrote the non-fiction novel Schindler’s Ark, the story of Oskar Schindler’s rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, which won the Booker Prize in 1982. The book was adapted into director Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List, which won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.

Though still a piece of fiction, Fled is an epic historical adventure. Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out. Highway robber. Convict. Runaway. Mother. She will do anything for freedom, but the cost needs to be weighed.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. When famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape. Survival is not any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean.

Keneally was fascinated by the epic voyage Bryant made in escaping from the convict colony at Botany Bay in 1791. It took Bryant and her companions 66 days in a stolen open boat to row and sail from Botany Bay for about 5,000 kilometers to the Dutch city of Kupang in West Timor – a feat of survival that attracted favourable public attention.

Meg said it was her father who had introduced her to Bryant’s astonishing story. In her historical note, the author explains where the story departs from known facts – and where fictional characters replace their real life counterparts.

She is co-author with Thomas of The Soldier’s Curse and The Unmourned, the first two books in ‘The Monsarrat Series’.

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