The Archipelago of Souls is a novel set on two islands. The experiences on one become an antidote for the dark experiences of the other. The exposed place is King Island, in Bass Strait, where Australian soldier Wesley Cress comes to live after World War II. Wesley grew up in the Western Districts of Victoria, joined the Australian army from Manly in NSW and ended up fighting a solo war on Crete after he managed to get left behind by his unit and thus became its only survivor. On Crete, the second island in the novel, Cress fought an idiosyncratic war both with himself and with a largely unseen enemy. Day’s account of Cress’ grinding struggle on Crete is remarkable in every way. It is based on exhaustive research into the combat on Crete, a less familiar chapter than some other battles, a theatre in which geography played no small part.
On isolated King Island, in the Roaring Forties latitude of the Southern Ocean off Australia, Wesley carries in his heart the infernal story of the Battle of Crete, the disappearance of his brother in the ensuing evacuation, and the hellish journey he was forced to take after he was left behind on the ancient island.
Day’s account of Cress’ grinding struggle on Crete is remarkable in every way. It is based on exhaustive research into the combat on Crete, a less familiar chapter than some other battles, a theatre in which geography played no small part.
Through the agency of John Lascelles – the unassuming postmaster on the island and a crusader for the rights of returned soldiers – Wesley attempts to negotiate a future in which love can prevail in a morally devastated world.
Archipelago of Souls is a novel exploring the difficult realities of nationhood, war, morality and love. Compelling and beautifully realised, it is about the creation of identity, the enigmas of memory and the power of the written word to heal the deepest wounds.
A Saturday Paper reviewer described the book thus: “There is a lovely, crosshatched quality to the movement back and forth in time and place: Day delineates two worlds – one ancient, storied, alien, mythic; the other surpassingly remote, an exquisite vacancy to European eyes – while quietly insisting on a pairing. Islands have qualities that render them distinct from other land masses: they admit the sovereignty of sea and sky; they breed humility and tend to turn their denizens inward. Wes’s psychological involutions have their obvious analogy in the twists and turns of Theseus in the Cretan labyrinth.”
About the Author
Gregory Day is a writer, poet and musician whose debut novel, The Patron Saint of Eels (Picador 2005), won the prestigious Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 2006 and was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for a first novel. His second novel, Ron McCoy’s Sea of Diamonds (Picador, 2007), was shortlisted for the 2008 NSW Premier’s Prize for fiction, and his most recent novel, The Grand Hotel, was chosen by the Herald Sun as the Best Australian Novel of 2010. In 2011 Gregory’s story ‘The Neighbour’s Beans’ was the joint winner of the inaugural Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. He is a regular contributor to the literary pages of The Age newspaper and he lives on the southwest coast of Victoria, Australia.