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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
An Ocean Away: A Journey of Hardship and Survival by Peter Clarke is a well-crafted historical novel that is both touching and hopeful. Set in the mid-1800s, the story is about William (a.k.a. Bill) Smith who is sent off by his father to Belfast, hoping that his son would be able to get aboard one of the ships and find a better life in a different place. Being young and inexperienced, William has to rely on his wits in order to get employment. Soon enough, he manages to join the crew of the steamship Lady Grace, en route to Australia, where people pay well to get there for the booming gold rush. Aboard the ship, he learns and hones his craft in seamanship while making new friends. However, it is not smooth sailing (pun intended) as nature’s wrath will threaten their voyage, and one of his fellow crew members will test his limits. If he ever gets to his destination, William will be forced to forget the past and make the best of the future—Australia is his future.
An Ocean Away does not have many complex characters and it is because of this non-complexity that these characters become essential. The characters do have a little similarity in the way Conrad or Melville developed their characters. What makes William three-dimensional is that you know his internal and external characteristics well enough so that you do not question his motivations. Peter Clarke brilliantly combines two conflicts—man versus man and man versus nature. Yet, it has a simple plot line about a young man hoping to find better fortune elsewhere, but the unpredictability of his fate during the voyage induces your curiosity. Even before William boards the ship, there are already intense scenes that pit William against his immediate vicinity and also that of his family. This novel is about the appalling yet hopeful experience of finding your luck in a big, scary world, and if this is what you like to read, An Ocean Away is the book for you.