Coconut Chaos

Quercus · 272 pp · 2008

Chosen as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, Coconut Chaos was read by Eleanor Bron

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At dawn on 27 April 1789 Fletcher Christian, master’s mate on HMS Bounty, took a coconut to quench his thirst from the supply on the quarterdeck… He thought this an ‘act of no consequence’, as insignificant as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. But consequences followed: mutiny; Captain Bligh’s navigation 3000 miles across the Pacific in an open boat in violent weather without maps or supplies and with starving men; the colonising of Pitcairn Island; the shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef of HMS Pandorasent to capture the mutineers; the seduction of the narrator in a storm at sea in a rudderless yacht…

Hazardous and extraordinary sea voyages drive this story of quest and adventure, courage and villainy. The cast includes the Bountymutineers, the all-Indian crew of the Tundra Princess – a 17,000 tonne container ship, Lady Myre – an eccentric lesbian aristocrat, Pitcairn Island sex offenders and the narrator’s ancient mother. The action moves through time and place from eighteenth-century Tahiti to modern-day Pitcairn, from Knightsbridge to Tauranga, from Mangareva to Tubuai. Inspired by chaos theory, Diana Souhami shows how one chance act, one simple random event, had dramatic ramifications that ripple through time.

EXCERPT

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An excerpt from Coconut Chaos is available here. Also available as PDF.

REVIEWS

Coconut Chaos retells the familiar story of the mutiny on the Bounty, but not in the way we have all heard before. This provocative, beguiling novel knows exactly what it’s doing: it refers to copious previous versions from contemporary diaries through to cinema interpretations. It appeals to the would-be adventurer in us all, then blows the myth to pieces even as it fulfils all expectations. It’s subversive, philosophical, deliberately chaotic and a rattling good yarn.

Margaret Elphinstone · The Independent


Coconut Chaos is a delight, moreish and funny, balancing between fact and fiction, linking together past and present, action and consequence, history and imagination. Souhami raises questions about the linear narratives we use to make sense of the chaos around us and at the same time revels in them.

Geraldine Bedell · The Observer


It started with a coconut. Or was it a kiss?… Souhami is a name you can trust, and here, as in her previous books, she proves herself to be a master storyteller in whose elegant hands fact and fiction interweave with admirable grace.

Melissa Katsoulis · New Statesman


Reading Diana Souhami’s vastly entertaining new book Coconut Chaos I was impressed by the way she has taken risks with history – her own as well as the documented story of the mutiny on the Bounty. We need writers who will tackle the given form of their medium and push at the edges of what is permissible.

Jeanette Winterson · The Times


Diana Souhami’s Selkirk’s Island won the Whitbread biography award. This book also deserves some sort of award – but should it be for travel writing, history or fiction?

… the book is dedicated ‘to the real Lady Myre wherever she now is’. I do hope she is somewhere and at least partly real. But as a fictional comic character she could take her place with Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Bracknell. As she would say herself of the story, ‘What a lark!’

Peter Lewis · Daily Mail


This smart, witty, mutinous book will link for ever the God-fearing island of Pitcairn with the jim-jams of the bountiful Lady Myre.

Frances Wilson · Daily Telegraph


Seamlessly and elegantly Souhami weaves together the strands of past and present and unravels parallels between Pitcairn’s extraordinary beginnings and its equally extraordinary present … Coconut Chaos has the unusual distinction among books about the mutiny on the bounty of being full of love.

Matthew Dennison · The Mail on Sunday


I admire Diana Souhami for the way she has invested an old story with new themes. The exploits of Bligh and Christian are reinterpreted by each generation and this is an elegant, playful version for our own, infused with the author’s preoccupations and those of her troubled age.

Sara Wheeler · The Times


Souhami’s instincts are so fine that she knows exactly when to let the appalling Lady Myre blunder into the narrative and when to send her back under the mosquito net. She is confident enough, too, to play with her readers’ desire for narrative authenticity.

Kathryn Hughes · The Guardian


In this fascinating, disturbing and entertaining book, Souhami weaves the stories of the olden-day sailors with those of the current islanders and her own (or her alter ego’s) voyage to Pitcairn… Highly recommended.

Helen Sandler · Diva


Souhami’s accomplished narrative is rich in both descriptive writing and the interplay of ideas about history, biography and destiny – as well as how the law of unexpected consequences has not yet finished with a small incident that took place in 1789.

The First Post: Best Reading


A strange and hugely entertaining hybrid of history, autobiography, travelogue and police procedural, leavened with a little chaos theory and a certain amount of mischief-making.

London Review Bookshop


Coconut Chaos is a delight from the first page. Not only does Souhami grab her readers by their breadfruit trees in retelling the tale of the mutiny, she delivers travel writing at its hilarious best, a surprise these days when good travel books are rare.

Andrew Armitage · The Sun Times, Ontario