Archipelago of Souls

Gregory Day

Archipelago of Souls
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Archipelago of Souls

Gregory Day

In the aftermath of the Second World War, an Australian soldier, Wesley Cress, a hero of the underground resistance on German-occupied Crete, seeks solace and comfort on King Island, in the mouth of Bass Strait, in the Roaring Forties latitude of the Southern Ocean.

Wesley carries in his heart the infernal story of the Battle of Crete, the disappearance of his brother in the ensuing evacuation, and the hellish journey he was forced to take after he was left behind on the ancient island.

When he meets Leonie Fermoy, the granddaughter of an American whaler with her own nightmares, the private and the public battles of their post-war worlds begin to fuse. Through the agency of John Lascelles - the unassuming postmaster on the island and a crusader for the rights of returned soldiers - Wes and Leonie attempt to negotiate a future in which love can prevail in a morally devastated world.

Archipelago of Souls is a novel exploring the difficult realities of nationhood, war, morality and love. Compelling and beautifully realised, it is about the creation of identity, the enigmas of memory and the power of the written word to heal the deepest wounds.

Review

Step onto the chariot that is Gregory Day’s Archipelago of Souls and canter through the dark emotions and turgid ruminations of a man’s troubled soul. Like other soldiers returned from World War II, Wesley Cress carries a burden of unspeakable trauma. Serving as an Australian soldier in the underground resistance of German-occupied Crete, he’s confronted with the brutality of war and the heinous acts man is capable of committing – including his own.

In the aftermath of this experience, he seeks distance in the wild and remote landscape of King Island, Tasmania. There he stakes his claim on a plot of land called Wait-a-While, a fitting name for a place to seek refuge. But far from offering him an escape, it becomes a purgatory where an undercurrent of tumultuous emotions churn and fester, rearing their ugly heads in the form of an infected tooth that must be lanced.

On a bender at the local pub – intent on anaesthetising his pain – he finds the unwelcome and surprising counsel he needs. He must confront his demons and purge his story through the cathartic act of writing. The confession that emerges holds his most pained and private revelations. He shares them with Leonie Fermoy, an islander with her own anguish to bear.

Underpinning this real human drama is an allegory steeped in myth and intuition. Wesley’s relationship with the feminine also requires healing and, like the hero Theseus, he must traverse the labyrinth to rescue the maiden in order to find the redemption he needs.

This is an eloquent, emotionally complex and layered work firmly grounded in human experience and yet reaching towards the divine.


Natalie Platten works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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