Imagination fills gaps in story of James Cook

MARK HOTTON
Last updated 16:11 21/03/2014

The Secret Life of James Cook
By Graeme Lay (HarperCollins, RRP $37)

The premise for The Secret Life of James Cook sounds a bit naff. A fictionalised account of the famous navigator's early life up to his first circumnavigation, based on letters to his patient wife . . . who actually destroyed the letters so no one ever knew the contents.

Graeme Lay has recreated Cook's life, and in doing so has provided an insight into what drove him.

The book follows Cook from when as a 16-year-old he leaves his parents in their inland village and walks 30-odd kilometres to a coastal town to start an apprenticeship as a grocer's assistant.

He falls in love with the sea and his future wife, and gradually becomes one of England's greatest sailors.

If you do not get hung up on the factual accuracy of the book - everything has some base in fact but obviously individual conversations are invented - it is a interesting and revealing tale and provides a special insight into Cook.

From a purely historical perspective it makes his story, and that of early New Zealand's, easily accessible.

It also short extracts taken from the diary Cool kept on Endeavour.

He was scrupulous in his observations about weather and sea conditions, as well as animals noted, but his personal feelings never appear.

The book explores his interactions with the various crewman and natives he meets, along with naturalist Joseph Banks, as well as his won wife Elizabeth who had to maintain a normal house while he was at sea for years at a time.

Lay is writing a sequel, based on the four years of Cook's life after his Endeavour voyage. It will includes his second world circumnavigation.

I am looking forward to it.

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