Sunday, November 21, 2010
Book of the Month
MR. MIDSHIPMAN HORNBLOWER
By C.S. Forester
This is the first of eleven books about Horatio Hornblower, an officer in the British Navy and his adventures during the Napoleonic Wars. While this is the first book in the chronology of Hornblower's career, it is actually the sixth one written by author C.S. Forester, who also wrote The African Queen. Unlike the other books in the series which deal with one long narrative over the course of the book, this one is episodic and features ten separate vignettes about Hornblower's early career.
The entire series, and indeed this book, are fabulous works of historical fiction. Hornblower's adventures are set against the backdrop of real events, and paint a very accurate portrait of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. When we first meet Hornblower, he is a seasick new midshipman who is coming on board his first ship, the HMS Justinian. It is hard from the first story to see anything of the great commander that Hornblower will become in the later books. He is a sad, withdrawn and pathetic officer who struggles to feel at home in the navy.
It isn't long, however, until he is transferred to the HMS Indefatigable under the command of his great mentor, Captain Edward Pellew. Under Pellew's watchful eye we see Horatio distinguish himself in some fun and dangerous adventures. Among the more exciting reads are the chapters entitled, Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice, Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer, and Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant. Despite some adverse circumstances, poor decisions by the young officer and a liberal dose of dumb luck, by the end of the book it is clear that Hornblower is going to become a great commander that will be the stuff of (fictional) British Naval legend.
If you are at all interested in the Napoleonic Era or the British Navy, the Hornblower books are a great read. I prefer them to the Master and Commander series by Patrick O'Brian because they are much less heavy on the terminology of ships and seamanship. While to O'Brian books are great, the Hornblower books are more about the characters and the adventures and do not require reference books to get through them. Ahoy!