‘Landfalls’ by Naomi J. Williams **

Naomi J. Williams’ Landfalls was my final choice on my Around the World in 80 Books challenge journey.  I selected the novel, which takes place in several geographical locations – ‘From the remote Alaskan bay, where a dreadful tragedy unfolds, to the wild journey Barthelemy de Lesseps undertakes from the far east of Russia to St Petersburg’ – as my Pacific Islands choice.  I did not really know what to expect with the novel; whilst I love stories of exploration, I have been rather disappointed with similar tomes in the past.  The blurb, however, did intrigue me, promising to take me along on ‘an epic voyage, undertaken with the grandest of ambitions.’ 9780349140445

Landfalls begins in 1785, and tracks many different characters who are connected in various ways with the real-life four-year long French government-backed expedition.  Williams tells us, as she introduces some of the novel’s characters, that ‘this is to be a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery – but every person on board has their own hopes, ambitions and dreams.’  The first chapter begins in spring of this year, at the French port of Brest.  The voyage, which is being prepared at this point, is ‘meant to compete with the accomplishments of the late Captain Cook, a voyage that is supposed to be secret until it departs.’

Williams’ writing is intelligent; whilst the descriptions are sadly few and far between, the prose seems very natural, and the third person perspective which has been used for several of the chapters sits well with the myriad stories which unfold.  I found it rather problematic after a while that each chapter employs a different narrative style.  The first is relatively fragmented, and others are long streams of prose given in the third or first person perspectives.  The structure feels effective at first, but as the novel goes on, it is rather a jarring technique.

The use of so many different narrative voices and characters almost made the novel feel like an interlinked short story collection.  Whilst rather a rich and multilayered story is created, I personally enjoyed and connected with some of the chapters, but not with others.  My interest waned when the particular story which Williams was telling did not grab me at all.  Despite the way in which Williams based this novel upon a real expedition, the characters felt largely unrealistic, and two-dimensional.

Landfalls has been meticulously researched.  It is an ambitious novel, particularly for a debut.  Sadly, I did not find the book an immersive one; as soon as I became interested in a particular character or thread of the story, it would end – sometimes quite abruptly – and something entirely different would be focused upon.  There was an imbalance here.

I felt as though Landfalls had far more potential than was realised, and the reading experience was slow and not overly enjoyable.  Williams seems to subscribe far more to ‘tell, don’t show’ than I personally like in my fiction; no vivid pictures were created, or even attempted here, despite the exotic and varied locales which Williams had at her disposal.  The novel did not come together for me; it felt as though several loose ends had not been tied up, and the detachment which was present in most of the chapters did not endear me to the novel or its characters.  There was not enough emotion here; whilst Williams sets out to show the effects such a voyage would have had on myriad characters, there is no real depth of feeling to be found within the pages of Landfalls.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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