by William Hope Hodgson
A creepy travelogue set in 1757, following a diminishing group of men through alien waters after the foundering of the title ship. hey, do you want some giant sea squid, terrifying sounds in the night including some heavy breathing and light shrieking, trees that ooze blood and display tormented human faces, horrible slug-like 'weed men', squirmy flappy tentacled stinging biting things etc? you got it. you want a survival story that has a nuts-n-bolts approach to dealing with clean water, food, repairing a boat, making a fire, all those basic details of an adventure tale? you got that too. hey, do you want a brave & kind & loyal & stronger & smarter than anyone around him type supporting character as your blue collar The Real Hero? with this novella, you get a grade A specimen of the type, free of charge. (oh noble unnamed bo'sun, you rock the house!)
William Hope Hodgson is one of the senior members of the classic Weird Fiction crew, and yet he gets less love than melodramatic Lovecraft or the arch & ironic Clark Ashton Smith. unlike Lovecraft, he knows how to restrain himself. his style is wonderfully archaic but he rarely goes over the top and is able to capably conjure up an atmosphere of creeping dread without getting all hysterical about it. he's no Lovecraftian drama queen (don't get me wrong, i love Lovecraft). and unlike CAS, he doesn't seem interested in being witty or using sardonic drollness to create a kind of ironic distance from his horrorscapes (don't get me wrong, i love CAS the most of the Weird writers). Hodgson is rather dry, very sincere, practically humorless, and despite the palpable horrors of Boats, there is a kind of naturalist-slash-spiritual side to him that makes this tale particularly convincing. of all the Weird writers, i would say that his closest brother would be Algernon Blackwood.
4 stars for the first two-thirds, which is expertly written and wonderfully dark and atmospheric. unfortunately, 2 stars for the last third, where a very annoying second boat is found, full of annoying people, and worst of all, The Tender & Brave Romantic Interest. that last third brings out the worst in both Hodgson and the narrator. on the one hand, we have endless descriptions of ropes & kites & repairing ships & oh yawn i'm falling asleep again. on the other hand, we have a narrator who suddenly embodies the most cloying aspects of Victorian culture (although, to be precise, the narrative actually takes place in the Georgian era) and who plunges into a particularly labored and trite romantic affair. it's like being forced to sit in Great Aunt Hortensia's stuffy, musty, doily-shrouded parlour and listening to her endless and microscopic descriptions of the Victorian Mating Ritual. especially irritating when i came over to visit Grandfather Jedediah and listen to some of his eerie ghost stories. get away Aunt Hortensia, your stories make me a little nauseous. and your tea is too sickly sweet.
this was my first audiobook and i have to say that i didn't enjoy the experience. i have a couple more on my ipod so i will try again; hopefully this will turn out to be an anomaly. the narrator was as monotone as they come and the sinister, atonal sound effects & music - although suitably unnerving at first - eventually became wearying (although they did add a delightfully macabre quality to the saccharine romance). but worst of all was my inability to go back, reread, and so further enjoy all the glorious WORDS ON THE PAGE. it was frustrating and it made the experience so much less immersive.