David's Reviews > The Long Ships

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
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Oct 11, 11

bookshelves: nyrb
Read from October 04 to 11, 2011

A five hundred page novel about Vikings set in the year 1000? Sure, why not? This book has got more booty than a Sir Mix-a-Lot video. [rimshot!] Of course, I mean old school booty, as in creaky wooden chests filled with gold coins and jewel-encrusted amulets. Red Orm is our hero, a strangely lovable barbarian who begins the novel as a pubescent naif and ends it as a wealthy chieftain. Oops, spoiler alert (retroactive). I'm not really giving anything away there. This is very much an old fashioned epic of seafaring, treasure hunting, and grisly spear fighting, so there's little doubt that that things end well for the protagonist—which isn't to say that he doesn't have to steer his painted dragon ship through many a shitstorm to arrive at the happy ending. Anyway, people who lived in Scandinavia one thousand years ago were some hardcore mofos. I'm not implying that non-Scandinavian people were pussies, but I haven't read any novels about them, so they're temporarily irrelevant. Life's pretty cheap to this sort. One day everything is status quo, and the next day they're at a drunken feast fighting to the death with some Swedish lug for giving them the stinkeye. And nobody bats an eyelash. This is just another day. In other words, don't make any longterm goals, because any day now someone could split your skull in half. Maybe even by accident, thinking you were Smalander when you were really from Lister. But it's just no big deal. Your family washes out your chainmail and asks what's for dinner. There is a lack of sentimentality in Y1K that makes the Seinfeld final episode look like a Douglas Sirk movie. Bengtsson, I think, realized that this could be a problem for modern audiences, so he gives us a relatively honorable and 'good' Viking to follow around. Don't get me wrong. Red Orm is all about killing for booty, but he lets the other dude attack first so he can take the moral high ground. But needless to say, when you're dealing with a five hundred page novel about Vikings set in the year 1000, you start out a little skeptical maybe. This doesn't exactly sound like something to read while you're waiting for your oil to be changed. But this novel has received some pretty rapturous acclaim from blurbsters the world over. In fact, one female reviewer made a case that even chicks would dig this book. I don't know about that. I mean, maybe a certain type of chick. I'm thinking a Renaissance Faire chick or one who enjoys role playing games. And that's still a maybe. I think the so-called universal appeal of this novel is somewhat overstated. Yes, it is a rollicking adventure, but that's all it is. If you're looking for more—like literary substance and profound meaning—go pick up a V.C. Andrews novel, for Chrissake. That's not what The Long Ships is trying to sell you. This is the tentpole movie of literary fiction. Approach it as such and enjoy.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Szplug (new)

Szplug This looks like a fun book.


David I'm halfway through, and it definitely is. Just a good, old fashioned 'rolicking yarn.'


message 3: by Szplug (new)

Szplug I've a copy of this, but always hesitated in beginning it—but a good rollick might be just the ticket.

BTW—did you ever finish Maqroll? Did it remain a five-star book?


message 4: by David (last edited Oct 05, 2011 12:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David BTW—did you ever finish Maqroll? Did it remain a five-star book?

As you probably know, the NYRB Maqroll is actually seven novellas about the character Maqroll. I've read three of them so far. I need to get back to them. It's not a five star book for me, but probably four stars. The first novella was my favorite so far.


message 5: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Yes, it is a rollicking adventure, but that's all it is.

That's pretty much what I had assumed, but dammit, that's fine with me. Soon, soon...


message 6: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Yes, Vikings sure do take their lives in their hands, what with the weather and all.


Manny In fact, one female reviewer made a case that even chicks would dig this book. I don't know about that. I mean, maybe a certain type of chick.

Perhaps pathetic, weak chicks without Viking genes wouldn't like it. Luckily, those Vikings did such a good job of spreading their genes around that the problem hardly arises.


message 8: by Jessica (new)

Jessica love this review DK. Somehow missed it til now.


message 9: by Richard (new)

Richard mofo's, pussies, and chicks - hello?


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