C.S. Forester's THE SHIP
A book review by Dennis D.McDonald
This 1943 novel tells the story of a battle engaged in by a British light cruiser in the Mediterranean. HMS Artemis is part of an escort task force protecting a convoy of supplies desperately needed by the British forces in Malta. The Italians are bent on preventing this resupply from taking place, thus setting up an engagement between the British and Italian navies.
The novel recounts the battle that takes place between the British and the Italians and focuses on the nearly minute by minute telling of the events as experienced by different crew members of the Artemis from the captain on down.
Dismissing this is a piece of wartime propaganda extolling the virtues of the British seamen would be a mistake. Forester is too good for that. Yes, he takes the time to introduce many crewmembers and seems to present them fairly, warts and all. Forester’s message is pretty transparent, though: high class are low, educated or not, smalltown or urban, young or old — all have parts to play in the well oiled war machine that cares less about class than about performance.
It’s hardly an approach you can fault. Death and terror are visited on all regardless of class. All get an opportunity to play the role of coward, villain, or hero.
It sounds formulaic, but it works very well. Familiar themes like the role chance plays in warfare, worrying about “…the girl back home,” the need for calm deliberation in the face of chaos, and the need to focus on training and one’s own responsibilities in the face of the fog of war, are all here. Once the Italian fleet appears from over the horizon the book shifts into nonstop action.
I enjoyed the book. It lacked a few things, most noticeably a diagram of the ship that displayed how the different control and weapon systems were placed. Much attention is paid to what the men did at their individual battle stations; I would have liked to have had a better idea of where these battle stations actually were!
But that’s a small quibble. This book is a great read.
For a description of how I read this and other books see A Progress Report on Reading Electronic Books, Especially Kindle.
Review copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald