Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: Captain Blood

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
While browsing through the audio books on LibriVox, I came across this book. I had just read some Sci-Fi (Permutation City, which was good) and I wanted something more epic in scale, like one of the Dicken's novels. So this was the best fit. It turned out to be a good choice, it kept me good company for the next week.

I listened to this book in twenty minute chunks during my commute to and from the office. All the voices who read the story back to me were clear and precise, though I did find it a little difficult to relate to the Captain's character after hearing multiple renditions of his voice.

The book is well written, even though a bit clichéd. The story is fairly simple but with some twists and turns which kept me on the edge of my seat. The story is coherent and well told. The narrator has gathered these stories of the Captain from the logs kept by one of his buccaneering companion (Jim). The primary theme of the novel is the love between Arabella Bishop and Captain Blood and the narrator breaks-character to give reader glimpses about certain future events which concern it. However, otherwise the narrator remains chronological.

Captain's character is developed slowly chapter by chapter. He is a chivalrous physician who has been an adventurer and doesn't stay too far from it. The story has a dismal beginning, where Captain Blood is involved reluctantly and is sent into slavery to Barbados. The depiction of non-white slaves is as one would expect in an old English novel (read: not flattering). Nevertheless, the book mostly ignores them and concerns itself with Captain Blood's fate. The novel uses deus ex machina in moderation and to great effect. Dr. Peter Blood's initial escape plan is about to fall apart when the plantation he works at suffers a surprise Spanish raid. As a side-note, the treatment of Spanish is also not quite politically correct.

However, at other occasions Captain Blood's cunning also clearly shows through. These occasions also serve to show his compassionate and noble character, while reminding the reader that his latent desire to please Ms. Arabella Bishop in part fueled his desire to be noble. Ironically, an unfortunate misrepresentation of one of these stories is what estranges Ms. Arabella Bishop from him later. Ms. Arabella Bishop pays heed to the story, ignores very obvious signs of Captain Blood's love for her (he named his ship Arabella), and calls Captain Blood "a thief and a pirate" heartlessly. The Captain takes the insult to heart. In turn, he misunderstands the relationship between Ms. Arabella and the Lord from England and willfully leaves her a second time. The story does have a happy ending in the end, but it twists and turns much before any closure is attained. In a heart touching, but fitting move, Captain Blood loses his beloved ship of more than half a decade, the Arabella, while attacking treacherous French (their depiction is not very accurate either, actually save Dutch, the author does not spare anyone who is not English) and saving Bridgetown, the place where he served as a slave. 

I listened to the first 25 chapters in about six days and then finished it in a rush through the last six chapters of this 31 chapter long saga in a single day; it did start to grow on me towards the end. This book reminded me of the long walks in Japan while I was reading Norwegian woods and The Voyage Out. This book has mingled with the crossing of the bridge over the Sihl river next to the Google office just like The Tale of Two Cities has mingled with the run around the park close to Triaudes, or Mrs. Dalloway while walking to Renes Garre from EPFL, or Night and Day while running on the IITK running track (though that memory is more hazy). This book is likely to remain with me for a long time.

Overall, a good book, with enough swashbuckling to change one's mood. The reading, as I said before, is perfect and I strongly recommend listening to it if you are in need of a dose of the good ol' pirate tale.

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