LONG JOHN SILVER by Björn Larsson


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Swedish writer Larsson’s first US publication, a retelling of the life of the pirate Silver, is a mild confection, perhaps sweetest for fans of Treasure Island who can rely on that classic to provide the motive to keep turning these many pages. Comfortably retired on Madagascar in 1742, Silver is nettled that all the literature written about his life has got it wrong. Amid his plundered riches and house staff, he opens his recollections during his youth back in Scotland, where he’s raised a motherless son by a drunken father. Having learned the knack of plucky self-reliance, he takes to the sea, is shipwrecked, and later is rescued by Dunn, a charitable soul of baffling kindness. Silver falls in love with Eliza, Dunn’s daughter, but after he witnesses a murder, the three are forced to flee England. Dunn and Eliza don—t make it out, but Dunn’s son, the impish, cowardly Deval, clings to Silver like a barnacle. The bulk of the story tells of Silver’s adventures at sea. He sails first with Edward England, whose spirit is ultimately snapped by the cruelty of the buccaneer’s life; and later with a slave ship, among whose “cargo” he inspires a rebellion against the vicious Captain Butterworth and his ruthless aide, Scudamore. Sold into slavery himself in St. Thomas, Silver escapes and ultimately joins up with Captain Flint. With Flint, Silver loses his leg when the cowardly Deval shoots him from behind as the pirates board a ship. Silver exacts his revenge by having Deval’s leg sawed off and roasted over an open flame—thus, Silver’s nickname, “Barbecue.” The action scenes in these passages are what make the book, since Silver’s meditations on slavery, independence, honor, and human rights are something less than stirring. Few of Stevenson’s Treasure Island readers, indeed, have been terribly gripped by Silver’s inner life. Still, the genial old salt is harmless enough and capable of telling a fair and bloody old memory more often than not.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-86046-694-X
Page count: 400pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999


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