Bryn Hammond's Reviews > Port Royal

Port Royal by Robert Polevoi
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May 18, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: imagined-fiction

It’s the twilight of the buccaneers and a rot has set in. In the first scene Countess Joan, a courtesan (as the tarts style themselves, so far from London) tells Captain Michael Scot he has 'the privateer’s disease' – her name for what she has seen before, in every captain, or at least the decent ones, if they live. Out the window she watches ‘an ugly incident’ – a Negro slave boy is beaten – and this seeps into her melancholy. The captain is about to leave on an expedition into the Darien.

His lieutenant Bradley is ‘a privateer antiquity’ at forty-five, and acts as the glue between soldiers and captain, whose charisma requires he stands apart. Lt. Bradley and Countess Joan are the two who love Scot, and try to save him throughout the book as that disease sets in – terribly in the wilds of the Darien, extravagantly. What matters to captain and lieutenant is that he live his legend to the end, but he is sorely assailed from within.

In the forward the author says of his characters, “They seem to me a larger sort of creature than we find about us now, albeit often it’s a larger evil.” The privateers among them, Scot and Sir Henry Morgan, consciously strive for the larger-than-life effect, though that can take its toll. When Morgan first looms into the story he writes, "Some men are very large, but few of these have inner magnitudes to tally with their bulk." Sir Henry does, and rejoices in it. "Another man his size would be too large, and certainly too fat. But Morgan’s corpus fairly measured the accumulated soldier." The knighted privateer, a royal governor now, is in a secret intrigue or tussle with his king – but that’s to give away plot. The toll on him, perhaps, is taken in a different fashion than on Scot, still active and in the Darien.

I can’t introduce the whole cast like this. I’ll only mention Lily, a sugar aristocrat – as sugar and the slaves that feed the sugar overstride the old world of buccaneers and Spanish gold. Scot is on his way to be obsolete; Sir Henry, like the politician he is now, adjusts. Lily has a facial blemish that obsesses her; she is driven by "her heroic wrestling match with female imperfection." This is strange enough - in a woman fit to out-politic the assembly and the governor - but there is a passage, where we learn her history, I found excruciatingly touching.

A few things about the writing. In the early parts the conversations struck me: big, slow scenes of human interaction where people talk to each other and a lot happens. He writes eventful conversations.

Out on the expedition, he makes bizarre things believable. There is a flagrantly bizarre thing, built with such care you cannot shake the structure. Bizarre things happen in life but they can be hard to get away with in fiction. This writer sinks his teeth into the challenge.

There’s the cross-purposes he orchestrates, and people’s misperceptions of each other.

There are the subtle (no attention is drawn to them – you just start to notice) use of analogies or echo. Lily’s beloved veils: the Indians’ gold plates to hide their mouths. Different freedoms and different slaveries and different kings and queens.

I like the way he writes of violence. I’m not sure I should try to describe how that is, other than mention its simplicity, its matter-of-factness. It’s the opposite of sensationalised.

I’ve read on Robert Polevoi’s blog about what he calls his ‘jazz’ method of demanding from himself a risky innovation on the fly. That is, he won’t give himself the outcomes ahead of time: this guaranteed him a spontaneity, an unpredictability. It’s hard to get away from a false logic in fiction, but he has been determined to, and I felt the results.

I had a smashing time with this; swept right off my right with the first pages; haven't been so involved in a novel for years.
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Reading Progress

May 18, 2012 – Started Reading
May 18, 2012 – Shelved
May 18, 2012 –
page 120
19.87% "This is sensational and has swept me right off my feet..."
May 28, 2012 –
page 120
19.87%
May 28, 2012 –
page 120
19.87%
May 28, 2012 – Shelved as: imagined-fiction
May 28, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside) Sounds good! I'll definitely give this one a shot.


Bryn Hammond So glad to hear that from you, Lavender. I've done my job.


message 3: by Simona (new)

Simona If this book is half as good as his review, I'll surely enjoy it.


Bryn Hammond :}

Hope the style suits you, Simona, but I think the first couple of pages can tell you that.


message 5: by Simona (last edited Jun 28, 2013 07:58AM) (new)

Simona I'll download the sample from Amazon; don't worry, while it won't be your fault if I pick a book that I don't like, it will undoubtedly thanks to you (and other brilliant people from this group)if I discover new interesting authors. Thank you Bryn.


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