Friday book review – Silver by Andrew Motion

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 27th April 2012

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel to countless movies, we all know the Treasure Island story. There’s something timeless about the tale of Jim Hawkins, who sets sail across the world with the devious one-legged LongJohn Silver and a mutinous crew in search of buried treasure.

Stevenson intended to write a sequel but never did, so now Motion has taken up the challenge. His book starts in 1802, 40 years after the events of Treasure Island, and this time round it’s the story of Jim Hawkins’ son, confusingly also called Jim.

Young Jim’s mother died in childbirth and he lives with his father at an inn called the Hispaniola (after the ship that sailed to Treasure Island) in the Thames marshes. He spends his days roaming the estuaries, running errands and listening to his father’s memories of life on the high seas.

But one night, Jim spots a mysterious stranger beckoning to him from her rowing boat. The girl introduces herself as Natty, daughter of the infamous Long John Silver, and persuades him to go and meet her father. Long John Silver’s a bedridden wreck of a man now but even so, when he instructs the young pair to sail to Treasure Island and find the remaining treasure they jump to his command.

Jim steals his father’s original map and the duo set off across the Atlantic on a ship chartered by Long John Silver. But their voyage turns into a nightmare when they finally drop anchor and discover that Treasure Island is not as uninhabited as they expected.

Motion originally set out to write a children’s book but Silver is a novel that will appeal to readers of all ages. Beautifully written and genuinely exciting, it features noble seamen (including a sailor amusingly called Stevenson), murderous pirates and stories of love, heroism and mind-numbing cruelty.

Best of all, Motion’s novel stays true to Stevenson’s original. His descriptions of the Thames marshes and the bizarre island landscape are outstanding – as is his depiction of Jim’s realisation that he’s never going to be the same innocent boy again.

Silver by Andrew Motion (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)

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