The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin (2008)
I had very high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed. Curtin applies her trademark historical research skills lavishly and although her in-depth details of research process are a little overbearing at times it is not a detriment to the story overall.
The Sinkings is the story of Willa, a woman living in present-day Perth, who is researching the story of Little Jock, a convict sent to Western Australia in the 1800s. The story moves between modern-day Perth and 19th-century Ireland and Scotland as Willa searches for information about Little Jock’s life and family, with his story unfolding in parallel with her research. Her connection to Little Jock begins with a hunch that he was intersexed like Willa’s estranged child Imogen, later known as Darcy. Willa’s research of Little Jock’s life becomes obsessive, and she flies to England, then Scotland and Ireland to search census and birth records for Little Jock and his family. Although parts of Little Jock’s story are clearly historical fiction, Willa draws threads between the hard facts of his birth, incarceration, transportation and death to create a rich tapestry of famine, prison, family, travel, secrets and hardship.
Although at times it is harrowing to read, I highly recommend this book, if not least of all to educate oneself in research methods and at best to examine the way the world reacts to those who do not fit into a neat binary of ‘male’ or ‘female’.