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WRACK by James Bradley


by James Bradley

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6108-8
Publisher: Henry Holt

An archeologist searches for a Portuguese shipwreck in this young award-winning Australian writer’s American debut. Among the sand dunes in a remote part of New South Wales, David Norfolk searches for remnants of a Portuguese sailing ship that, according to shadowy evidence, ran aground there in the early 16th century. Since history gives most of the credit for European discovery of Australia to the English, finding the ship would be a significant event, insuring a boost to Norfolk’s floundering career. Bradley intercuts Norfolk’s actions with accounts of early Portuguese and Spanish rivalries south of the equator, and with tales of early map-making—arguably the most entertaining part of the book. Norfolk’s quest seems minor by comparison, as does the man himself. With his funding run out, he discovers a corpse on the last days of his dig. The police agree that he’s stumbled upon a murder, but it’s a 50-year-old one, and they aren—t much interested. Meanwhile, up the beach a way, in a shack without running water, an old man named Kurt Seligmann is dying. Norfolk suspects that Seligmann knows the secret of the murder—and that it’s tied to the shipwreck. He enlists a friend, a woman physician who happens to love him, to care for Seligmann in his final days, and slowly Seligmann’s story emerges. It’s the story of The English Patient, and told in the same manner: Seligmann and a friend sought the shipwreck, but WWII intervened. Seligmann also had a passionate affair with his friend’s wife. Yes, yes, but where is the shipwreck? In the final scenes, Norfolk learns that Seligmann, in a terrible rage over the loss both of his friend and his lover, burned it. And thus does Bradley offer the reader a heavy-handed ending to an overwrought, imitative story. Bradley is talented, but this outing, masquerading as high literature, is plain unoriginal.