Jonathan Cape, £12.99, 404pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Silver, By Andrew Motion

 

The best books are written with an ear to somebody. Treasure Island was written in 1883 for Robert Louis Stevenson's 15-year-old stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. It was intended to be a boy's book in the mould of RM Ballantyne's Coral Island, Captain Marryat's Masterman Ready, and Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, ripping yarns all. It succeeded beyond Stevenson's wildest dreams, becoming a cornerstone of childhood literary memory, indirectly inspiring masterpieces as different as Peter Pan, Swallows and Amazons and High Wind in Jamaica, and directly spawning a dozen forgotten prequels and sequels.

Now Andrew Motion enters the lists with a high reputation and a solid following behind him. Does Silver: Return to Treasure Island work? Yes and no, has to be the answer. The former Poet Laureate acquits himself flawlessly for the first 50 pages, and offers much splendid invention throughout. The tale opens in the Hispaniola, not the ship in which Jim Hawkins sailed in search of Captain Flint's treasure, but the tavern on the north bank of the Thames near Greenwich which Motion's Hawkins bought in the 1780s with the last of his Caribbean spoils.

Thirty years on, our hero is his son, also Jim, who, because of the death at his birth of his mother, "grew up in an atmosphere stained by melancholy". Jaded by the tedium of his work in the inn and at the eternal repetition of the legends of Treasure Island, he takes most pleasure meandering in the river's marshy edgelands. Then the entrancingly beautiful and competent Natalie rows out of the mist, tells him that she is the daughter of Long John Silver and his "woman of colour", and asks Jim to steal the map so that he and she can sail to win the "bar silver" that Stevenson, perhaps with half an eye to a sequel of his own, told his readers was left on the island.

So far, so very good. Motion adopts pitch-perfect Stevensonian prose, and excels in grippingly detailed description, as when Jim destroys a wasp's nest or raids Billy Bones's battered sea-chest for Flint's map of the island. He rivals Conrad in symbolically freighted descriptions of the estuarial Thames. The scene in which Natty takes him to the Spyglass, her own family's rickety, ship-like Wapping tavern, to visit the emaciated ruin of Long John Silver, now blind as Pew, is superb. Strains of gospel song come from her mother downstairs, Silver runs his clawlike fingers over Jim's face, his voice is "a hiss of steel, like a sword being pulled from its sheath".

But Long John is left behind, we find Motion's new villains less satisfying than Stevenson's, and disbelief only precariously suspended. Would Jim, should Jim, steal the map from his father and without a word of goodbye set sail with Natty, now disguised as a boy, in a ship crewed by Silver's hirelings? When the treasure-seekers discover Stevenson's maroons living in unspeakable depravity, would Natty disappear into the island with the mysterious Scotland, muttering that he and she are of a kind?

Things work, just, in the end. The storm on the island and the hurricane that assails the loaded treasure-ship make nail-biting reading. But who, one has to ask, is the book for? Not children, I think. Silver is not the kind of modern boy's book that Anthony Horowitz and Philip Reeves dash off with unerring panache. But nostalgic lovers of Treasure Island, who are after all legion, will devour it eagerly, enjoying the range both of faithful reference and jokey nudges, most egregiously a seaman "by the name of Mr Stevenson – a Scotsman and a wisp of a fellow, whose place was generally in the crow's nest".

Christina Hardyment's 'Malory' is published by HarperCollins

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower