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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Landfalls

Landfalls: A Novel - Naomi J. Williams


I was really attracted to this book. From the beautiful cover to the promising description (“grounded in historical fact . . . refracted through a powerful imagination”), Landfalls appeared to me a definite win. Then it went nowhere for me. That is to say, it was incredibly dry, which is ironic considering that this is a novel at sea, but—a ha!—'tis not a novel at sea at all, but a collection of stories that occur when the sea voyager is docked, a fact that should be obvious by the blatant title but wasn't clear to me until the third chapter or so. That sentence feels like it needs several exclamation points, doesn't it? Okay, let's go back. ...wasn't clear to me until the third chapter or so!(!!)!! Doesn't have the same effect now, does it? Okay, moving on.

So reading Landfalls had its ups and downs. Many of these stories didn't resonate with me. Some really did. But I think the book's greatest flaw is its very concept, that of focusing only on the landfalls of the Lapérouse expedition. Seafaring voyages are made by what happens at sea, not on land. On land, the characters are not stretched in the same way. The reader doesn't really get to know these characters and how they have interacted and grown together. The characters are put at sea together and more than six months pass before their first landing. What happens in all this time? How have these men grown? How have they rallied together? How have they struggled with one another? These are the stories I want. Instead, what we're offered are the men's time cavorting with Spanish dignitaries and locals. Indeed, these moments are important too, but I feel like I'm missing a big chunk of the story. Frankly, for the most part, I had trouble differentiating the characters because I never really got to know them on the voyage. I felt like I was locked away in the hold of the ship, then, upon reaching land, I was released and allowed to follow whatever crewmember I wanted until the ship again disembarked. Then, the process was repeated over and again. By the end, I felt unsure of where I was in the world and who I'd spent all that time with.

As I stated earlier, there are definitely some strong moments in this novel. A few of the stories—particularly those where members of the crew interact with locals of a very different culture—are simply amazing. Throughout the book, the writing is flawless. Indeed, Williams is an exceptionally talented author. As a whole, however, Landfalls didn't keep me interested enough. I was promised magic, but what I was given did not shine.