Jeffrey May's Reviews > The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts

The Floating Brothel by Siân Rees
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Aug 07, 12


Maybe because I’ve read so much excellent narrative nonfiction recently (Unbroken, Brutal Journey, A Voyage for Madmen, The Lost City of Z, Born to Run) it has negatively skewed my view of The Floating Brothel. On the other hand, it may just mean that I’m more attuned to good nonfiction. In any case, I don’t think anyone is fond of giving bad reviews, and that includes me. Perhaps, as a writer, I know that, regardless of success or failure, writing any book is a lot of hard work. (That’s why I revise and rewrite a lot and seek input from others.)

The Floating Brothel should have been a great read about the personal travails of English women, unfairly imprisoned in fifthly over-crowded jails, then shipped away on the Lady Julian to Australia where they become the unpinning of colonial society. The research material is loaded with potential for great stories.

Unfortunately, Sian Rees proves to be a better historian than she does writer. She falls woefully short of the writing ability that the rich history deserves. Her style is passive and distant, seemingly every other sentence starting with “there were” and followed by banal statements such as “there was lots of disease” or “the day was wild and stormy.” The “narrative” often descends into nothing more than a list of people and places. On one page I counted no less than twenty references to various people and places. New characters were introduced in the last chapters as if they had equal weight to those introduced in the first chapter.

The Floating Brothel lacks narrative flow. Its repetition is more egregious than readers may be used to, repeating bits of information as if cutting and pasting a thesis statement. The Floating Brothel resembles a unimaginative college term paper, a chore to read. You may want to use this book as a reference as the information appears to be reliable if you want to float your own brothel book. Aside from that, avoid it.

Two Stars for the redeeming historical research.

Jeffrey Penn May, author of Where the River Splits and others.
My website - http://www.askwritefish
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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jo I agree. As a genealogist with an emphasis on social context, I found this book a great reference piece. Although I am still confused as to where the names of some places came from. Some were explained but others such as Dawe's Point were not.

Lucky for me I have a longstanding relationship with Google!


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