Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, C. S. Forester

I’m really not sure how I feel about this book.

On the one hand, I really struggled to get through it. However, this is almost entirely because I have almost no knowledge of sailing, the navy or anything maritime. I’ve never even seen the Hornblower TV adaptation, so I started out at a serious disadvantage. Forester, it seems, may have expected his audience to have a pretty sound knowledge of the navy and in particular the jargon associated with sailing. Tellingly, it was the more military sections (of which there are many) that I found the most difficult to focus on.

On the other hand, the characterisation really surprised me. When I started reading it, I was expecting an story that focused entirely on military action in which the characterisation would adhere to certain stereotypes. But Hornblower’s character is more complex than that. At the beginning of the story, he isn’t a super-confident young man; in fact he gets seasick before they even leave the harbour and seems a most unlikely candidate to be a hero of a book like this. This makes the character more believable, ensuring that even those of us who have not had any desire to join the navy can identify with his struggles.

I finished the book feeling pretty keen about the thought of reading a sequel, so I think on balance I enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend this if you know a lot about sailing in general. Otherwise, maybe keep a dictionary close to hand and prepare to view reading this novel as a means of expanding your knowledge.



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