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To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy Hardcover
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- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 0571164064
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571164066
- Dimensions : 2.54 x 2.54 x 2.54 cm
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The first volume (Rites of Passage) is obviously the main draw, being a ground-breaking and Nobel Prize-winning historical novel that proved you can make an intriguing first-person story without much necessarily happening! "Lord" Talbot, the central character, is deeply unsympathetic but still compelling as you follow his revelations in the hope that he will fall over eventually.
By the second volume Talbot is developing into a chastened and more engaging character, and I warmed to the genuinely believable friendship he forges with the first mate. However, I missed some his more roguish features, and I felt him to be diminished by the debilitating effects of his romantic aspirations.
The third instalment creates new tensions among the officers, and the passengers play far less of a role; though I found Talbot's moral double standards a bit irksome, it harked back to the flawed character of the first book, and made him more interesting as a result.
The writing is of a consistently brilliant standard, and even if it's not packed with high drama, the writing alone carries the story as surely as the situational sea carries the ailing ship. The elements of class, societal division, wealth and poverty, entitlement and moral rectitude translate well from the Napoleonic setting to the modern era. It's good to be able to see them through the filter of a previous era to recognise the same stratification in our own culture, which has not quite shrugged off its class-based divisions.
Edmund Talbot is priviledged by class and education, and yet utterly hidebound socially. His arrogant sense of superiority leads him to flout ship's rules immediately and to get in the way at every stage of the voyage. It is a deft balancing act to let us laugh at his clumsiness, hypocrisy and snobbishness, yet still retain some sympathetic feeling for him. Golding manages this. Edmund is young, after all. He will learn!
There is wonderful humour in Rites of Passage, (the seduction of Zenobia being a standout scene), and there is great pathos too, most obviously in the plight of poor Reverend Colley. This book is an English classic, no question.
Golding's admits in his excelllent introduction that the sequels ("Close Quarters" and "Fire Down Below") were not planned from the outset, but that he felt there was more to discover about Edmund and his co-travellers, so allowed his imagination to extend the full length of the voyage. How marvellous for us that he did so!
Read on their own, books 2 and 3 would possess less of the beautiful structural arch of the first (a fact cunningly acknowledged by our unreliable narrator midway through Close Quarters!) However, read right through, they gather momentum, transforming into a terrific, page-turning sea adventure. Gradually the pretense of an interrupted journal narrative gives way to a more suitable novelistic treatment. By the end, Edmund has emerged as quite the hero (though still somewhat accident-prone!) More importantly, he has gained some much-needed self-awareness along the way.
Through all three books, fascinating explanations of nautical terminology and ship structure are smoothly interwoven with the human trials and tribulations. In fact, by the final installment, the ship itself has almost become the central character.
Very well-researched, and very well written indeed. I couldn't recommend this trilogy more highly.