BOON ISLAND by Kenneth Roberts


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There is superb story material here, but in the handling it often seems repetitive and spun thin. Possibly Roberts has developed story techniques in long sustained narrative and finds himself adrift in the shortened form, lacking the detailed background of minutiae. Here he has chosen to tell a tale of incredible hardship, a miracle of survival, limited to a cast of fourteen men, marooned in mid winter on a bit of jagged rock. Shelter, food, drink were equally unattainable. The facts- and they are a matter of record- have not been used before. The saga of those twenty four days challenges Mutiny on the Bounty and the Donner Party tragedy. The setting drifts from England, where untoward circumstances forced the early sailing of an American-bound ship, to Boon Island, off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a storm-battered rock, where seals stay off-shore, where nothing grows, where mussels and seaweed provided a cold, unpalatable daily diet, where oakum, picked laboriously from the rope entangled in the wreckage, provided a species of protection from the elements. A grimly stark tale, unprettified by false exaggeration of courage, told with a minimum of fictional elaboration, to give background to the men who made up the complement of officers and crew of the wrecked vessel. Roberts builds their story against the sustained fear of a crisis that is never fully realized, but continually threatened in the villainy of the first mate, his two co-plotters, and the threat hanging over the captain, bound to them by a debt of the past. There's mutiny and cannibalism before rescue arrives. There's courage and endurance and pettiness and failure as well. Despite its unevenness, absorbing reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1955
Publisher: Doubleday