Mr Peacock’s Possessions – Lydia Syson
Lydia Syson’s Mr Peacocks Possessions is a wonderfully poetic and unrestrained book of family and community struggles, survival, and division. Mr Peacock has a burning desire to own and manage his own place, to be self-sustainable, and master of his own domain. Swiss Family Robinson may be the dream, the reality will be a lot different! The Island while fictionally named as Monday Island is actually based on Raoul Island, part of the Kermadecs, between New Zealand and Tonga.
While the family is encouraged by dreams of a paradise island where they can live as they please, reality will be a cruel companion. A great leader must be driven, have a vision, be robust in determination but must also take others with them on their quest. After years of hardship scrounging out a settlement, the Peacock family now have different outlooks and aspirations which are just about to be exposed and challenged, including the leadership.
The book starts at a linchpin moment in the history of the Peacock family. That moment sees the arrival of a group of native South-Pacific Islanders on the ship Esperanza to help the family establish dwellings, farmland, and grazing land amongst the forests and scrubland. At the same time, Albert, the eldest son goes missing and all attempts at finding him fail. The narration provides two different time strands; one from 2 years prior to this moment providing the background and motivations for the move, and the other from this moment on.
The Islanders: Solomona, Kalala (brother to Solomona), Iakapo, Pineki, Vilipate and Likatau.
The Peacock family, palagi (white non-Samoan): Mr and Mrs Peacock, Lizzie, Ada, Albert, Billy, Queenie and Gussie.
The story is generally told in the third-person although there are recurrent first-person accounts from Kalala and Lizzie, each providing an important perspective from the two groups.
Right away there is a challenge to character stereotyping and perception because Solomona is a man of God, educated by The Reverend, who cites the Bible and carries an air of religious fortitude. The Islanders are better educated than the Peacock children in that they can read and write. Mr Peacock is the intemperate unreligious Master of the Island but cannot be seen to object to God’s teaching and observances – and is impelled into accepting Sunday must NOT be a day of work. In 1897 the Islanders are deemed servants and are still a subjugated group. Have they moved far from the repressed circumstances of slavery? The voices of ancestors that may have been on this island before, ring in Kalala’s mind.
As the book progresses relationships will be put under pressure and the basis of those relationships will be examined and tested. Some relationships will become stronger while others are stretched and even broken. The morality, ethics and beliefs are stretched with all the main characters, as secrets are unmasked.
This is an enthralling, cleverly written and fearless take on the desert island story with multiple characters and relationships that are intertwined to tell a tale of hardship, and the testing of core beliefs and authority. I highly recommend this book.
Many thanks to Bonnier Zaffre Publishing and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.