It is 1839. A young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, is running through the long wet grass of an island at the end of the world to get help for her dying father, an Aboriginal chieftain.
Twenty years later, on an island at the centre of the world, the most famous novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, realises he is about to abandon his wife, risk his name and forever after be altered because of his inability any longer to control his intense passion.
Connecting the two events are the most celebrated explorer of the age, Sir John Franklin – then governor of Van Diemen’s Land – and his wife, Lady Jane, who adopt Mathinna, seen as one of the last of a dying race, as an experiment. Lady Jane believes the distance between savagery and civilisation is the learned capacity to control wanting. The experiment fails, Sir John disappears into the blue ice of the Arctic seeking the Northwest Passage, and a decade later Lady Jane enlists Dickens’s aid to put an end to the scandalous suggestions that Sir John’s expedition ended in cannibalism.
Dickens becomes ever more entranced in the story of men entombed in ice, recognising in its terrible image his own frozen inner life. He produces and stars in a play inspired by Franklin’s fate to give story to his central belief that discipline and will can conquer desire. And yet the play will bring him to the point where he is no longer able to control his own passion and the consequences it brings.
Inspired by historical events, Wanting is a novel about art, love, and the way in which life is finally determined never by reason, but only ever by wanting.
“One of the best novels of this year” The Times
“Wanting is a novel you never want to end. As a reader, I can offer no greater accolade” Canberra Times
“A haunting and powerful story… Mr Flanagan does a magical job of conjuring his native Tasmania as it must have appeared to English settlers … And he enlivens his discursive narrative with some dazzling set pieces” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“What a voice! … Dickens would have applauded Flanagan’s style. There can be no author more passionate or unfettered than Flanagan” Sydney Morning Herald
“A summary does little justice to the complexities and nuances of this dense and fascinating novel … There are moments of great power and lyricism in Wanting” William Boyd, New York Times Book Review
“Flanagan brilliantly excavates historical truth with the light touch of an irresistibly good story, humour, and the wry observance that much of European civilisation depends on not dancing naked in polite drawing rooms.” Rachel Holmes, The Times
“Moving seamlessly through time, across two continents and between three storylines, WANTING is a marvel of precision and cohesion.” The Sun Herald
“This is the best novel I have read this year or expect to read for several more.” Stella Clarke, Sydney Morning Herald