Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crippen - John Boyne

If you are going to write a novel about such a well known event you can't rely on dramatic tension - after all, everyone knows the outcome. To make the narrative work, the writer has to make his or her readers involved in the lives of the characters, to believe in them, and to understand them.

Unfortunately, Boyne's characters are stock stereotypes - the upright captain, the maverick seaman, the snobby pleb married to money - and he has not heard of the maxim "show, don't tell". And let's not forget the anachronistic behaviours and vocabulary ... a personal bugbear of mine in historical fiction! Perhaps I wasn't reading the same novel as the other reviewers on Amazon but truly, this was not well done at all. I have eclectic tastes, and will cheerfully read "lightweight" stuff as well as "literature" as long as either are good - and this wasn't.

What could have been an interesting story was rendered dull and unimaginative. Boyne should be locked in a room with Beryl Bainbridge's historical fictions Every Man for Himself and The Birthday Boys and not allowed out until he realises that that is how it should be done when you're telling a story whose ending is already known.

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