Werner's Reviews > Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester
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's review
Jun 19, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, classics, books-i-own
Recommended for: Fans of "sailing-ship navy" yarns
Read in January, 2009

Both my oldest daughter and her husband are fans of the Hornblower series, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the A & E movie productions that I've seen of the Hornblower corpus; so I was motivated to read the books, and decided to begin at the beginning of Hornblower's career, with this novel. (My only previous acquaintance with Forester was from reading one of his short stories.) I'm glad to say it didn't disappoint!

Forester had a deft hand with maritime adventure (not all of it dealing with combat), characterization, and easily-readable Realist style. The movies based on parts of this novel don't always follow the book very closely; the Hornblower revealed here is a more complex character than the film version, younger (a teen at the beginning) and more callow, and definitely fallible. I could actually identify with him to a high degree --even though I'd never be able to do some of the things he did-- because he's portrayed as awkward and shy, and as pushing himself to the limit to do things that tax and scare him mainly because he fears other people's ridicule if he doesn't; and because he can make the same kind of absent-minded mistakes (like forgetting to cock his pistol when he's going into combat) that I could imagine myself making. One critic I've read felt that Forester is a less deep writer than his fellow maritime novelist, Melville, because he doesn't go in for symbolism and allegory. Nonetheless, his writing isn't shallow; he confronts his hero with several demands for moral decision-making. (And on these occasions, Hornblower comes through, earning the reader's respect and setting a good example.) The writing here is vivid; you get a really powerful picture of the hard and dangerous character of naval life in that day as you experience, along with the hero, the palms of his hands being flayed bloody by having to slide down a rough rope from a falling mast, or the winter cold and wet of the waves constantly breaking over him in an open boat.

Although this book is usually considered a novel, the structure is episodic enough that it could have been billed as a collection of short stories; though the chapters are placed in chronological order, they're each perfectly self-contained and could stand as distinct units. Since this wasn't the first Hornblower book to be written, it doesn't furnish any detailed information about his life before he went to sea, or why he decided on such a career; I'm assuming this would have appeared in the first book, but the lack of it here made for a gap in the character development. Also, if Forester ever explained the basic nautical terms of a sail-driven ship and its rigging and operations, he doesn't do it here; technical terms are used abundantly and you glean (or sometimes, don't glean) an approximation of the meaning from the context, unless you've picked up a definition elsewhere. (A sailing ship entry in a good visual dictionary would be a useful accompaniment to this read!) But these are minor caveats; I'm looking forward to eventually reading the next two books (in terms of Hornblower's life chronology) of the series, at least.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jonmontanavega (new)

Jonmontanavega That is one superb review, Werner.

Werner Thanks, Jon!

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