Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Cruel Sea

By Nicholas Monserrat

This is without a doubt the best book I've read so far this year, exceeding even 'The Road'.

'The Cruel Sea' is a novel about several characters in the Royal Navy who participate in the Battle of the Atlantic, during the Second World War. On the face of it this might not seem all that interesting, though I was inspired to buy this book because it was pointed out to me (by Steve) that a Flower class Corvette; HMS Compass Rose, features heavily in the story, I am quite interested in small, auxiliary warships. Far more so than I am in battle ships or cruisers.

I'm not actually all that interested in the Second World War, that is to say, I find it interesting enough, but its not one of my favourite periods of history, merely one that I have been exposed to due to the enormity of interest which it has inspired. I think its safe to say that the impact of the war, and the lessons one can take from it, are many and profound and it is quite possibly the moral nexus of our contemporary world. Or at least, that of secular Europe.

What I, personally, find especially interesting, is art that reflects humanity in adverse conditions, not least literature, and here is a prime example of a book that deals with a complex, difficult, period of history by describing the emotions of the characters in the book. The events of war, the fighting and hardship experienced by the crew are described, sometmes in great detail, but it is the emotional impact of these events which is foremost. Monserrat writes, with a penetrating erudition that describes beautifully the horror of the war, not only as a graphic rendition of fighting and dying, but as the emotional impact on the lives and characters of his characters as they face the ordeal.

In essence this book is not about the war, but about what the war does to the characters as they struggle to survive.


Grimsby Mariner said...

I agree entirely. An excellent book although, like you, it is outside of my normal reading comfort zone.
My only problem was I can't help reading it and not seeing Jack Hawkins as Ericson. As a side note the ship used in the film was an actual Flower class Corvette although from the Greek Navy all of ours having been scrapped (and the Kriesz was scrapped by the time the film premiered - the last of her kind).

moif said...

I have an advantage there as I have not seen the film yet. I have acquired it however so I'll probably add a review of it at some point in the not too distant future.