The Changeling

by Alison MacLeod,
336 pages,
ISBN: 033362484X

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First Novels - Piracy, Apocalyipse
by Eva Tinahyi

Right from its opening line-"I pulled him from a sea of blood."-The Changeling, by Alison MacLeod (Macmillan General, 324 pages, 15.99 cloth), is dramatically charged. A changeling is, as one dictionary defines it, a child secretly exchanged for another by fairies", or, in its archaic sense, "a changeable person". The child, Anne, pulled from the sea of blood, turns out to be a her not a him, and she fits the definition of changeling on both counts. Her mother Sally dies giving her birth, and Anne is raised by Annie Fulworth, the "I" who delivers her. Sally had landed one day on Annie's doorstep predicting that their lives would be inextricably intertwined, and as Annie later remarks, were it not for Sally's fateful arrival, "I'd know what's what and him from her and her from it and it from the devil, as an old woman should-and I'd not be telling tales." But as the primary narrator, tales she certainly tells.

The story begins in County Cork, at the start of the eighteenth century, but shifts from Ireland to the New World, to which Anne's father emigrates to find his fortune. Annie and Anne, through a complicated series of events, end up moving with him, and it is in her new environment that Anne truly comes into her own. Anne, dressed and treated as a boy almost from birth in order to establish her as her father's rightful heir, grows up assuming male prerogative. By the time at sixteen she marries Seaman Jim Bonny, she has honed her personality to a fine edge. She is clever, adventurous, stubborn, and fearless, and completely unapologetic about the choices she makes. It comes as no surprise when she leaves her husband for the flamboyant Calico Jack Rackham, a pirate captain whose crew she readily joins-disguised as a man. On board, Anne becomes Anson, a swashbuckling young renegade who fights, loots, swears, and carouses with the best of them. She falls in love with an attractive fellow crewman, Mark Read-who is eventually, like Anne, revealed to be a woman. MacLeod implies throughout that gender itself is a form of disguise; the gender we are born with shouldn't exclude us from experiencing all facets of life. In Anne, she has created a character who transcends her gender, who adamantly insists on creating herself rather than succumbing to what the world wants to dictate for her.

The Changeling is a romantic epic full of larger-than-life characters, exotic locales, heroic events, grand loves, and supernatural occurrences. MacLeod fuses bits of history (Jack Rackham was an actual pirate), legend, and folklore with her own remarkable imagination. And although it's sometimes difficult to tell who exactly is narrating because of the jumping back and forth between first and third person, MacLeod manages to juggle historical detail, convincing characterization, and a fairly complicated plot line with skill.


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