Top critical review
Creepy and wet.
on 19 May 2014
This story takes the form of a sailor's account of an increasingly spooky voyage, around the end of the nineteeth century. On watch one night a boy thinks he sees a figure hiding in the shadows, and then our narrator himself glimpses an unnatural stranger crossing the deck. The incidents escalate in frequency and significance, horrifying in due course the entire crew.
Two of Hodgson's four novels eschew dialogue entirely, so it's surprising to find that this one is built around the worried conversations among the sailors, and that the author actually has a very good ear for this stuff. If anything, there is too MUCH naturalistic dialogue, as the repetitions and hesitations of the sailors occasionally hold back the story. Another cavil is that Hodgson's nautical experience leads him to include a great deal of ship-board detail, such as:
"It was much as I had supposed; the spectacle was all right, but the pin had gone out of the shackle, and the shackle itself was jammed into the sheavehole in the yard arm."
Although this stuff adds to the authentic seafaring flavour, Hodgson rarely 'throws any rope' to the reader, leaving this one sometimes a little 'at sea'...
However, Hodgson's disturbing and very original imaginings are at play and the gradually rising menace is very effective, though I found the climax just a little abrupt. (The epilogue, added for realism, is more of a nuisance than a boon.) In Hodgson's books, it is the lot of humanity to pit their resources against forces that can never be perfectly understood, and his refusal to dispel the mysteries he weaves leaves them haunting the reader's mind like ghosts on a ship...