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Landfalls: A Novel by Naomi J. Williams
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Landfalls: A Novel

by Naomi J. Williams

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An epic voyage, undertaken with the grandest of ambitions.

I had no previous knowledge of the Lapérouse expedition before I read this book and I did not read about it on the internet until I just had a couple of pages left of the book to read. Two frigates left Brest in 1785 with two hundred men on board in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Every chapter in Landfalls is told from a different point of view. Both from the crew, natives, and other Europeans they encountered on their journey.

I had some problem with the story I must admit. Mostly because I had no previous knowledge of the journey and also with the shifting between the characters. So it took a while for me to really get into the story, and some characters left a bigger impression on me than others did. I especially liked the chapters with the captains Lapérouse and de Langle point of view.

One of my favorite part of the book was when they reached Alaska and everything that happened there. It was then I really started to enjoy the book. I think the chapter with the native girl in Alaska, her point of view was just so amazing to read. Just think how it must have been, never seen Europeans before. Amazing.

Also, the last part of the book, the mystery of what happened to the shop was just so fascinating to read about.

I recommend this book to anyone that wants to know more about the Lapérouse expedition or like to read historical fiction.

Thank you Piatkus for providing me with a free copy for an honest review! ( )
  MaraBlaise | Nov 2, 2017 |
I first read this book in 2015 and adored it, and I was delighted when my book club selected it to read last month. Rereading it reminded me of what is so fabulous about this book, and I think it might be edging into one of my top ten all time favorite books. (!)

As with all the books I adore, I feel like I can't adequately explain why I loved it so and what about it was so compelling. In this case, it's everything -- the premise, the characters, the narrative style -- and this reread had me once again breathless in awe.

Williams recounts the late 18th century voyage of the Astrolabe and Boussole, two French frigates tasked with further global exploration, scientific inquiry, and cartographic correction. Each chapter follows a different crew member, and details the dramatic and tragic journey of the two ships.

I hesitate to say too much about what happened (don't google before reading) because much of my pleasure derived from learning about the voyage as I read. Williams beautiful articulates each character and every chapter is infused with tragic humanity; we're given hints of the fate to come, and can only watch everything unfold.

Though focused on the French sailors, Williams still includes point of view from the indigenous communities the expedition met as well as women, which I greatly appreciated. While it's obvious she has keen sympathy for the French expedition, she doesn't make light of their hubris and colonialism, nor does she exoticize the indigenous populations the expedition meets (no cafe au lait skin comparisons!).

The narrative style changes depending on the character, but even though we shift points of view, there is still rich emotional resonance in every offering. I teared up more than once -- I actually miss some of these characters! -- and I still feel breathless awe at Williams' skill in evoking emotion, place, and era so efficiently.

I first read this book at the beach in 2015, cracking up my wife and mother because I kept gasping aloud every few pages; later that year, my brother -- who has pretty divergent reading tastes -- called me to recommend this book, having loved it himself. Regardless of whether you're a fan of historical fiction or not, if you enjoy books of very human foible and weakness, hope and aspiration, consider this novel -- I think you'll find it compelling. ( )
  unabridgedchick | May 10, 2017 |
An epic voyage, undertaken with the grandest of ambitions.

I had no previous knowledge of the Lapérouse expedition before I read this book and I did not read about it on the internet until I just had a couple of pages left of the book to read. Two frigates left Brest in 1785 with two hundred men on board in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Every chapter in Landfalls is told from a different point of view. Both from the crew, natives, and other Europeans they encountered on their journey.

I had some problem with the story I must admit. Mostly because I had no previous knowledge of the journey and also with the shifting between the characters. So it took a while for me to really get into the story, and some characters left a bigger impression on me than others did. I especially liked the chapters with the captains Lapérouse and de Langle point of view.

One of my favorite part of the book was when they reached Alaska and everything that happened there. It was then I really started to enjoy the book. I think the chapter with the native girl in Alaska, her point of view was just so amazing to read. Just think how it must have been, never seen Europeans before. Amazing.

Also, the last part of the book, the mystery of what happened to the shop was just so fascinating to read about.

I recommend this book to anyone that wants to know more about the Lapérouse expedition or like to read historical fiction.

Thank you Piatkus for providing me with a free copy for an honest review! ( )
  MaraBlaise | Apr 14, 2017 |
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. ( )
  chrisblocker | Mar 2, 2016 |
Prismatic account of the ill-fated scientific voyage of two eighteenth-century French ships. The tale emerges obliquely via a different character's voice in each chapter. ( )
  beaujoe | Nov 20, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374183155, Hardcover)

The gripping story of a dramatic eighteenth-century voyage of discovery

In her wildly inventive debut novel, Naomi Williams reimagines the historical La Pérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.
     Deeply grounded in historical fact but refracted through a powerful imagination, Landfalls follows the exploits and heartbreaks not only of the men on the ships but also of the people affected by the voyage—natives and other Europeans the explorers encountered, loved ones left waiting at home, and those who survived and remembered the expedition later. Each chapter is told from a different point of view and is set in a different part of the world—ranging from London to Tenerife, Alaska to remote South Pacific islands and Siberia, and eventually back to France. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing tale of the high seas, scientific exploration, human tragedy, and the world on the cusp of the modern era.
     By turns elegiac, profound, and comic, Landfalls reinvents the maritime adventure novel for the twenty-first century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:27 -0400)

"Reimagines the historical Laperouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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