The story begins with a nod to Oliver Twist: the orphan John Turnstile picks the pocket of a gentleman he sees browsing at a bookstall, is apprehended by the police and hauled up before the beak. However, the kindly gentleman turns out to be his saviour, offering him a chance to avoid a year in gaol by taking a job aboard the Bounty.
In John Boyne's version of events, Captain William Bligh is the hero, a kind-hearted (if a little pig-headed) man who is proud of his record of fairness and not having to discipline his crew. His nemesis Fletcher Christian, in contrast to the cinematic personifications of him courtesy of Messrs Flynn, Gable, Brando and Gibson, is portrayed as a vain, pompous dandy.
The story follows the Bounty as it sets sail from Portsmouth to Otaheite (Tahiti) where, after a hard and perilous journey, the sailors partake of the food, drink and other delights on offer from the very hospitable natives. A group of them, led by Christian, decide they would rather stay in this island paradise than return to Blighty, and the infamous mutiny takes place. Bligh and his ragtag band of 18 loyal supporters (including Turnstile) are forced to leave the ship and set sail in a tiny 'tub' on an 48 day journey which is beset by disease, hunger and madness, until they finally find salvation in the Dutch colony of Timor.
Turnstile (or "Turnip" as he is known aboard the ship, much to his disgust) is a very engaging character with an endearing line in cheeky banter and an optimistic outlook, despite his dreadful start in life as a child prostitute and pickpocket in the 'care' of the Faginesque Mr Lewis ("Him what brought me up"). He quickly earns the trust and confidence of Captain Bligh, paving the way for a touching, lifelong friendship based on mutual respect.
I thoroughly enjoyed this extremely colourful and at times very funny adventure story, which is now up there with my other two favourite sea-faring tales Star of the Sea and Sea of Poppies. It's very different in style and content from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which just goes to show what a diverse and talented author John Boyne is.