on 13 March 2011
Really nearer 5 stars, but I don't know how to rate this book objectively. I hardly know how to review it, but I recommend it strenuously to anyone who would revel in discovering a virtually unheard-of work both bizarre and impassioned.
What plot there is is simple: A ship with a mysterious cargo sets sail, following disquieting events dockside, for a destination unknown even to the captain. Aboard with the hastily-assembled crew are the captain's daughter, her stowaway lover, and an enigmatic supercargo. The ship is of a weird construction, with hidden pipes, doorways, and passages; the hold is sealed to protect the secret of the cargo; the cabins are bugged with listening devices; instructions are issued from a nearby but unseen ship. A character somehow disappears, there is a mutiny of sorts, and the abrupt end of the voyage is the result of the stowaway's attempt to solve the ship's mystery.
I read much of this book in small chunks--something I'd never before done with fiction--because I found the atmosphere so overwhelming and the sound of the writing so driving that I wasn't always lingering long enough to truly take in the meaning of the words. Because you're unlikely to be able to leaf through a copy in a bookshop, I've chosen a couple of passages almost at random to give a sense of the prose:
'Millions of ears hear the sound of universal sadness, true or false, and fall prey to it. There exists only one pain, one passion, one death. But they glitter limitlessly in infinity, in motion everywhere. And every ray, the known and the unknown, hums this consuming rhythm, this melody of downfall. He who lays himself open to it founders, goes up in flames, succumbs. Perhaps the greatest work of art is the masterpiece of omnipotence which is everywhere with a soft voice.'
'Entrails, dearer to a lover than fur or satin to a child who thinks they have a place in life--like the windswept sea under blue-black clouds on any evening--strewn, scattered, uglier than a butcher's wares, bared to the light in bloodless exposition.' (part of a metaphor describing the autopsy of one's friend)
Those should be enough for you to consider yourself warned--or enticed.
on 22 February 2013
Having bought this edition, fetchingly garbed in a muddy green, I was obliged to obtain a matching Barbour jacket (the Border), in a deep internal pocket of which I have taken to transporting this volume at all times. You really should not consider any other book - forget your tawdry story books, pay no heed to those so-called works of history or attempts at 'veridical documentation' - The Ship is the only book you will ever need.