Into the World
It is 1791, and the ships of the La Perouse expedition have gone missing somewhere in the Great Southern Ocean. Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux is despatched to find them. On board Recherche is a steward known to all as Louis Girardin. But Louis is, in fact, Marie-Louise Girardin, who was forced to abandon her illegitimate son and flee the political turmoil in France. Only d’Entrecasteaux and Huon de Kermadec, captain of Esperance, know that she is a woman.
Girardin manages to evade public exposure for most of the two-year voyage, although she faces increasing danger from a sailor, Raoul, who seems to know her secrets and threatens her. When the expedition falls into Dutch hands and finally receives news of the execution of Louis XVI, all the simmering tensions between republications and royalists come to a head.
Many readers will be familiar with what was happening in France during this tumultuous era, but less well-known are the concurrent expeditions when France and England competed to explore new lands and make scientific discoveries in Oceania and around Australia. The details of the expedition and the frictions between the mariners, naturalists and scientists run close to truth, and the narrative is written in an easy style with enough intrigue, adventure and romance to keep you turning the pages. Although Marie-Louise Girardin really did exist, her real story is a mystery, and the novel offers a speculative version as to why she may have taken on a male identity.
For anyone curious as to why there are so many French place names on the southern coast of Australia or who just wants to know more in general about these largely forgotten French explorers and their voyages, this entertaining debut by Stephanie Parkyn would make a fine introduction.