C. S. Forester – Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Length: 7h 30m (320 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: 25 January 2014
Finished: 09 February 2014
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I love the movies, so I thought I’d try the source material.
Hornblower’s got more
to worry about than just
war against the French.
Summary: When young Horatio Hornblower joins the Royal Navy in 1794, it is not immediately clear that the life of a sailor is for him. For one thing, he’s seasick before he can even report for duty, and his inexperience with the naval life is something that’s all too clear to his fellow midshipmen. But through a series of adventures (and misadventures), aboard the H.M.S. Justinian and later aboard the H.M.S. Indefatigable, facing down French ships, captured prisoners, Bubonic plague, Spanish prison, and the dreaded test for lieutenant, Hornblower soon finds his sea legs – and his gift for leadership.
Review: I have absolutely no explanation as to why I love the Age of Sail so much… maybe I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle at exactly the right impressionable age? (Probably a combination of that and the movie “White Squall” and all of its mid-90s cute boy glory catching me square in the teens.) Anyways, I love the Age of Sail (or if we’re being less formal, “British boys on boats”), so I of course have watched the A&E Hornblower mini-series many, many times. But I’ve shockingly never read much of the now-classic source material. I read Master and Commander a long time ago (pre-blog), and enjoyed it, but was a little flummoxed by all the rigging and sail and other shipboard terminology, and I wonder if that didn’t scare me off of naval adventures for a while. But regardless, I’m glad I finally tried again, because Mr. Midshipman Hornblower was totally understandable, and quite fun.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is not a novel proper, but a series of short stories detailing the first few years of Hornblower’s career. Some of the stories are relatively self-contained, but most of them have some interconnections – what happens in one affects Hornblower’s position in the next – and some flow together so much that they seem like one contiguous plot. So the result is a book that is episodic, certainly, but in the way that I would expect a naval life would be episodic. The action, when it comes, is fast-paced and exciting, as well as being relatively easy for a land-lubber to follow. And even though this book was not written first, Forester does a good job of starting Hornblower’s character off young, and having him grow and mature as he goes through this book, with his personality and intelligence and honor intact.
So, overall, I enjoyed this book, although I can’t say how much of that is based on the book itself, and how much is based on the fact that the book reminded me of the movies, which I love. I wasn’t totally enthralled with it – its episodic nature meant that it was easy to put down without being anxious to pick it back up again, and Hornblower’s maybe just a little too noble and good at things to be the world’s most compelling protagonist. But I’ll certainly be reading more, to see how I fare with a full-length novel (and eventually one that they haven’t yet made into a movie!) 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I’ve seen recommendations against starting with this book, since it’s short stories, and was written later. I can’t offer opinions on that score, other to say that I thought it was a fine place to start, but if you’re not already familiar with the character from the miniseries, I can see how a full-length novel might be better.
First Line: A January gale was roaring up the Channel, blustering loudly, and bearing on its bosom rain squalls whose big drops rattled loudly on the tarpaulin clothing of those among the officers and men whose duties kept them on deck.
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