Posts Tagged ‘Hornblower’

Adventures in Bookland: Hornblower and the Atropos

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
Hornblower and the Atropos

Hornblower and the Atropos

Has anyone remarked on the double entendre in our hero’s name? No. Then I won’t either.

Right. The book. Yes. I know I had all sorts of interesting things to say about it, but I finished reading it a month ago and the interesting things have slipped away into the place all those bon mots and lightning quick quips go when you actually want to use them, to be replaced by leaden, frankly rather dull, words. Words like episodic, entertaining and edifying: they all apply but really, if you’ve read any Hornblower, you’ll know that already.

What did I have to say that was interesting? Ah, was it this: this is story as single-person drama. While it’s not written in the first person, it’s absolutely Hornblower’s story – something evinced by the relatively small amount of dialogue. It’s all action and Hornblower planning on, or reflecting on, action. As such, it’s a peculiarly solipsistic book. Not bad for that, but I think having read four Hornblowers I need to take a break for a while. It might have helped if Hornblower had a sense of humour, but he’s as devoid of that as he is of musicality. Music is a bit hard to do in a book; humour is almost as hard.

Adventures in Bookland: Hornblower and the Hotspur by CS Forester

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
Hornblower and the Hotspur

Hornblower and the Hotspur

Hornblower and the Hotspur is the third book in the series by character age, but the last novel for Forester himself. It was published in 1962 and the author would only live four more years – long enough to start another Hornblower but not to finish it. So, his creation has outlived him by nearly 50 years and looks set to continue on for a while yet.

This is no necessary outcome – a visit to any second-hand bookshop or a trawl through old best-seller lists will reveal shelves of books, famous in their day, and now as forgotten as the mouldering men and women who wrote them. So, why has Hornblower endured? One reason, sad to say, is fortune itself – as the screenwriter William Goldman says about the film industry but which could be as well applied to publishing, ‘Nobody  knows anything…Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.’ So, for the public, Hornblower worked – and continues to work. In large part that must be because of Hornblower himself: a character of sufficient quirks to make him interesting, but with enough heroism to make him an admirable hero through a series of novels. But another reason must surely be Forester’s command of tension and release. Throughout Hornblower and the Hotspur, situations personal and naval are brought to crisis point and resolved, within the overall arc of Hornblower’s ascent from Commander to Captain to, at the book’s closing, Post Captain, and the security of assured command. Maybe it was Forester’s work in the film industry that tutored him in writing in subsidiary climaxes through the course of his work, maybe it evolved naturally in his writing, but it is quite masterly in its execution. I shall be following Hornblower as he ascends the ranks to admiral!


Book review: Lieutenant Hornblower by CS Forester

Friday, April 17th, 2015
Lieutenant Hornblower

Lieutenant Hornblower

Having cheerfully patted myself on the back in my last review but one that I had made the right decision to read the Hornblower series in chronological rather than publication order, I now have to withdraw the self-congratulatory pat on the back. Lieutenant Hornblower, the second in time but the seventh to be written, does not work nearly so well as the second book in a multi-volume series for the simple reason that it was the seventh book actually written. As such, CS Forester was obviously trying out narrative ideas to freshen up his work and, in this, he writes from the point of view not of Hornblower but of William Bush, who had already been established in the series as Hornblower’s best friend, but is here introduced – and introduced to Hornblower. All the action is seen from Bush’s point of view and, since he’s a stolid, unimaginative officer, very far from the high-wrought but controlled tension under which Hornblower lives, the book has a very different feel to the first: it’s dashed hard to write through the eyes of a slightly dull man without the writing occasionally being a bit dull, and Forester only just survives the experiment in point of view. Now, if I had already the first seven Hornblower novels, this would have been absolutely fine, as I’d be more than ready for a different view of our hero – and, indeed, an insight into how others see him. But, as I am only starting to get to know him, this drawing back to another point of view was disconcerting. Despite this, Forester’s narrative drive carried me along, and I finished the book faster than a sailor claiming his ration of grog, and I have already reserved the next in the series from the libarary. And, yes, having started this way, that is how I will continue – at least for the next book (although if this one is written from the point of view of the woman Hornblower appears to have decided to marry at the end of this book – a mistake, I strongly suspect – then I’m not I’ll be able to bear it).

Book review: Mr Midshipman Hornblower by CS Forester

Friday, April 10th, 2015
Mr Midshipman Hornblower

Mr Midshipman Hornblower

There are some eras that just work – in historical fiction books – in a way that others don’t. So, we have endless stories of the Roman legions, but  few of the English Civil War (although my theory for that is that very few writers today can find their way into the headspace of the Parliamentarian/Puritans). But of all the eras, none has proved itself better suited to books than the Napoleonic Wars: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books and, of course, but, in my case, shamefully unread, CS Forester’s Hornblower series.

Well, now I’ve started reading Hornblower, and I’m hitting myself over the head with a copy of A History of London (and if you’ve seen or, worse, tried to pick this up, you’ll know how serious a self castigation this is!) for taking so long about it. This is marvellous, completely page-turning stuff. The useful introduction in this edition, by Bernard Cornwell, told me that Forester had been writing Hornblower novels for a while before he produced this one, returning to the youth of his hero to fill in background, and it does not always work to read a series in chronological rather than publication order (Narnia, for instance, should certainly be read with the same sense of discovery as Lewis himself found in writing it, rather than from its Genesis to its Apocalypse), yet with Hornblower this looks to be the right approach. I’m thoroughly enjoying making the acquaintance of this geeky (before they’d invented the word) youth, as he makes his uncertain way into the senior service, complete with acute seasickness.

As to why Napoleonic-era novels work so well, I suspect it has to do with the time itself: the conflict that brought into being the modern era also bears many of the characteristics of the ancien regime it displaced: so prisoners might give their word on parole, and it be accepted, that they would not escape; there was the wonder of a world still being discovered; and yet, the first indications of the unique savagery of modern, industrial warfare in the massed cannonades and vicious guerilla warfare of the Peninsular conflict. The Napoleonic Wars closed one era and began another: no wonder they work so well in books.