Book review: Lieutenant Hornblower by CS Forester

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).


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