Monday, 15 February 1999

C.S. Forester: The Good Shepherd (1955)

Edition: Michael Joseph, 1955
Review number: 208

C.S. Forester's tale of the Battle of the Atlantic concentrates on the personality of one man, the captain of an American destroyer acting as a convoy escort towards the end of the war. Captain Krause - known as "the Kraut" by his men - has twenty years' naval experience but little combat experience compared to the other escorts because of the late entry of the U.S. into the war; his seniority means, though, that he is in overall command.

The pressure on the convoy is less than in the earlier years of the war (as detailed in Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea), but there is still plenty of drama. Forester concentrates on his central character, and his account has more heroism and less grinding unpleasantness than Monsarrat's. Reading it shortly after The Cruel Sea makes one acutely aware of the comparative shallowness of Forester's writing, though his aims are rather different from those of the later book. However, the lighter touch and the way Krause is presented makes The Good Shepherd read like wartime propaganda.

A comparison with Forester's Hornblower novels is perhaps rather fairer, but even so The Good Shepherd does not rank with the best of these, which are the novels on which Forester's future reputation will be based. Though Hornblower has some unusual quirks of character, these do not interfere with the reader's appreciation and belief in him; Krause is not so well conceived or realised and so jars rather more. (Hornblower's oddities, of course, tend to make him more twentieth century in his outlook than his real contemporaries; Krause is made less modern by his.) His devout Protestantism is of a type particularly old-fashioned today (and it is important enough to supply the metaphor from which the title is derived: as Jesus is for Krause, so Krause and his ship are good shepherds to the convoy). It is, however, the comparative triviality of this book which really makes it inferior to The Cruel Sea.

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