Thursday, January 24, 2008

book review - Close Quarters


This is the second book in the Passage to the Sea trilogy and it starts with William Golding having his hero Edmund Talbot admitting that he does not know what to write about.

If the first volume was about the short life on board of the reverend Colley then this second volume starts suffering from a hangover from the parson’s death. The end of the parson leaves a vacuum that is not immediately filled. Talbot looks for inspiration from the second most powerful officer on board Lieutenant Summers but after a while there us a limit to the depth of that personality.

What saves the book from straggling off into nowhere is the bringing together of the boat Talbot is on with another English ship. After initially panicking that it is a French vessel and the nerves and adrenalin that pumps as it comes into sight the reality is that it is British and brings news of peace. For Talbot it also brings him into close quarters with a girl he falls head over heels in love with.

He tries to stay with her but a series of knocks on the head leaves him cabin bound when the boats split apart and Talbot and company are then left at the mercy of the waves. With the ship damaged the rest of the focus of the book deals with the dual problems of Talbot’s jealousy fuelled love for the girl he met and the fear gripping most of the ship about sinking.

In the end the story is wrapped up quickly because Talbot confesses locking his journal away to ensure it survives if he drowns so he provides a speedy summary of what happened until they docked safely.

This is a book that has the feel of being a second in a trilogy and presumably lays down some characters that are going to become important in the concluding part of the story. It drifts along and it feels almost as if it is a book you have no connection with. But slowly but surely by the time the end is near and the crew and passengers are gripped with fear about sinking the description of the situation of the boat has you wanting to read until the end.

But the conclusion, which is and feels tacked on, makes you hungry for the conclusion but almost happy to dispense with Close Quarters. At this stage it is hard to say how important it will be when looking back over the three books, but it lacks the central story that dominates Rites of Passage and fails to work on an emotional level in quite the same way as the first book, which described in chilling detail the humiliation of Colley.

But as the final paragraphs promise it is a taster that will indeed lead onto the final part of the trilogy, Fire Down Below.

Version read – Faber & Faber paperback

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