By Dominic SmithFiction Allen & Unwin
Bright and Distant Shores
Bright and Distant Shores is an absorbing novel of adventure and discovery, set between the high seas and remote islands of the Pacific, and the museums and skyscrapers of 19th-century Chicago. Vibrantly realised, with complex and intriguing characters, this novel is eccentric without ever seeming laboured, and rich with detail without getting bogged down by it.
Collector and entrepreneur Owen Graves lives in a scrapyard, yet dreams of buying a house and marrying his fiancée, the cultured and progressive Adelaide. The chance to make his fortune comes with a high price. His benefactor, insurance king Hale Gray, funds his voyage to the South Pacific, but stipulates that his dilettante son, Jethro, must tag along – and on his shopping list of artefacts is ‘several natives related by blood’, intended for a live exhibition. Meanwhile, Argus Niu, a Melanesian houseboy in love with Western culture, searches for a new niche following the death of his missionary employer, and finds himself stranded between cultures. The two men and their missions will collide, with life-altering consequences for all.
Dominic Smith, influenced by writers like Peter Carey and E.L. Doctrow, has created a bewitching novel laced with playful irony, which uses the past to interrogate the present and will resonate with contemporary readers.
Set in the late 19th century, Dominic Smith’s Bright and Distant Shores journeys from the new sky scrapers of Chicago to the scarred and disrupted island life of the South Pacific, in a tale obviously founded upon fastidious research, yet so vividly conceived as to feel at times like a work of pure imagination. Smith’s characters are surprising and authentic, his narrative drive extraordinary and his themes - of individual and social morality, materialism, ambition, and the interplay of cultures - complex. This is a love story, a romp, a tale of adventure - but an anti-heroic one, which looks with both love and cynicism at an era that so profoundly shaped our own country.
It is 1897 and Owen Graves is content to live in his shanty with his collection of artefacts gathered from his work in demolition. But there is a moment in time at the Fisheries Building in Chicago when he watches Adelaide lie inside a whale skeleton and falls in love.
So begins the journey from the skyscrapers of Chicago to the distant islands of the South Pacific where he hopes to make enough money to start a life with his beloved. His dream is dependent on the whims of the sea and the wild islanders that they intend to trade with, not to mention the billionaire’s son, Jethro, who he must baby-sit during the expedition. The journey, funded by Hale Gray (Jethro’s father), is to collect weaponry and artefacts, including real-life savages, as part of a campaign to promote the Chicago First Equitable as the world’s tallest building.
Dominic Smith not only imagines 1897 but transports the reader to the time and place with unblinking ease. This is no ‘quick read’. Settle in for a yarn of epic proportions. Be immersed in the details of the workings of the Lady Cullion and imagine yourself on the foredeck as you survey the broiling sea. Turn the page to see if the ship makes it home in one piece and that the boy gets his girl.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist