Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion

When my partner informed me that there was a sequel to Treasure Island, I commented that I did not recall Robert Louis Stevenson ever writing one. ‘Ah, there’s the rub!’ He said, and we both wondered who would be so cheeky as to presume they could follow on from such a classic novel of its and our time. Clearly, Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate, thought he was up to the job as he has always loved Stevenson’s Treasure Island, calling it “a cornerstone of my reading, and of my imagination”. So it is he that has written a sequel and attempted to, as far he can, write it in the manner of Stevenson himself. Word out so far is that he has managed to capture Stevenson’s voice and the atmosphere of the times expertly, but that the chapters are a tad too long and could do with some cutting. This and that his narrative is not so fast paced as Stevenson’s, and he shows no economy with words which perhaps led to the lengthy prose in the first instance. In fairness to Motion, Treasure Island did leave the way for a sequel to be written and as Stevenson did not manage to do this himself, why shouldn’t an author give a concluding end to one of our best-loved classics? We were never given the chance to find out where the silver was buried, as Jim Hawkins at the end of Treasure Island tells us, “The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them.” So the stage is set for the next chapter, if you can bear with a new writer.

The story starts off with the protagonist, Jim Hawkins’ son, also called Jim, who is a boy roughly the same age as his father was when he first set out on his adventure. His father has lost most of Captain Flint’s treasure and now is an innkeeper on the River Thames. Regarded as somewhat of a bore, he regales his customers with tales of old every night until he retires drunkenly to bed. A girl appears one day called Natty who is the daughter of Long John Silver and he has given her a task to settle. Like Jim Hawkins he also keeps an inn but is near to death and still obsessed with the part of Flint’s silver that was never found. Silver has commissioned a boat to find the silver but he needs the famous map from Jim Hawkins to be able to go and find it. The son Jim agrees to steal it and from here, both young Jim and Natty are set to sail on Silver’s ship, with Natty disguised as a boy and calling herself Nat. As Silver is so ill, he cannot travel himself, but his brooding presence is everywhere on the ship. There is a problem when Jim realises that one of the crewmates is the nephew of Israel Hands of whom his father killed. Did he see him lurking in Silver’s inn before the voyage?

So does the sequel work? As an enjoyable novel in its own right, yes. As a follow on from the classic that we all know and love? Yes and no. Motion has only one real villain and that is Long John Silver, his others are simply not up to the job. The writing is perfectly pitched so that most of the time you can imagine Stevenson sitting back and scrawling the chapters hurriedly, however, there are some character traits that do not add up. Would young Jim steal the map from his father and then leave without a goodbye to sail on Silver’s ship? That part of his character is not made clear from the outset and if this is the type of person he is, we should know. There is also the problem of who is this book aimed for? What is the target audience for this book? The millions who read Treasure Island as a child and now wish to carry onto the sequel? Or a totally new audience who have not necessarily heard of Treasure Island. For that reason it is a difficult book to read as young people who would have read Treasure Island are now possibly too grown up to read this, and young people today are perhaps not interested in this kind of ‘ripping yarn’.

That said, it is an intelligent book and completes a classic tale.

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