Friday, 27 November 1998

C.S. Forester: Hornblower in the West Indies (1958)

Hornblower in the West Indies coverEdition: Pan, 1966
Review number: 173

Hornblower in the West Indies consists of five episodes from towards the end of his career, when he was an admiral and during a four-year term as Commander-in-Chief in the West Indies. Other than this background, and the fact that they are arranged chronologically, the stories are virtually independent; each one could certainly be perfectly comprehensible if read on its own. In these stories, Hornblower deals with an attempt to rescue Napoleon from St Helena (they take place around 1820), captures pirates, gets involved in Simon Bolivar's rebellion in South America that led to the independence of the Spanish colonies there, is kidnapped and survives a hurricane.

Hornblower's personal heroism is still there; much of the plot of these stories is set up to justify him being in situations where such an important and senior officer could display this characteristic. The short format (each section amounts to about fifty pages, so they are longish short stories) makes Forester skate over many of the strengths of earlier Hornblower stories and his characterisation of the character almost perfunctorily - the eccentricities which made him both human and more acceptable to modern tastes (such as his opposition to hanging and flogging, his famous daily baths and his tone deafness) are really only there as gestures. It is the earlier novels, dealing with his time as a captain, which are the strengths of the Hornblower series.

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