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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Rope Eater

Brendan Kane, unhappy at home, soon found himself just as unhappy with the tavern job that he found himself working at age 17. So bored was he with this new life, that when a smooth talking recruiter for the Union Army came through town, Kane found himself marching away with those newly recruited to go south to fight the rebels of the Confederate States of America.

However, he soon discovered that war was not the great adventure that every young man imagined it would be and that he was just as likely as the next man to end up dead on the battle field. This was a realization that every soldier soon reached, and it was the reason that most of them pinned their names on their clothing and carried final letters to those at home in their pockets as they headed into battle. Kane became obsessed with those letters and made sure to collect as many of them as he could find after each of the battles fought by his unit. Upon finally reaching a breaking point, and deciding he had had enough, he carried dozens of those letters with him and handed them over to the postmaster of the small whaling town to which he had managed to make his way.

When despite his having no experience as a seaman, Kane was offered a job on the Narthex, a strangely ugly boat that was due to sail the next morning for the Arctic, he eagerly accepted the offer and saw it as the beginning of the next phase of his life. He soon found himself part of a crew of misfits, all of whom speculated about the purpose of the trip north and hoped to share in its expected profits.

By the time that the trip’s purpose was revealed to the crew it was too late for any of them to opt out, and they found themselves sailing farther and farther north alone as all of the whaling ships in the area headed for home. Day after day they were faced with the same daunting task of moving ever northward in the worst of weather and with nothing before them but a gray ocean that was becoming thicker and thicker with icebergs. The captain’s goal became less and less an interest to the crew as everyone aboard the ship came to realize that their survival was suddenly more an issue than was reaching their intended destination.

Ben Jones does a good job in describing the tediously repetitive existence of the crew as they struggled to stay afloat and to survive the extreme temperatures to which they were subjected. With no sunlight to break day from night, every hour seemed like the one before it and the one to come. Their minds became as numb as their hands and feet and they stayed alive as much from habit as from any conscious effort to save themselves.

Unfortunately, as a reader, I came to understand how they must have felt. I pushed through, from page to page, wondering if I would have the strength to see it through to the end and, if so, whether or not I would find that the trip had been worth such a supreme effort. Because there is such limited character development, I found that I really did not care who lived nor died. With one or two exceptions they were all the same to me. After reading this novel of almost three hundred pages, in which so little action took place, I was exhausted and wished I had never signed on for the trip.

Rated at: 2.0

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