Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale—Robin Lloyd

This book, based on a true story, relates the tale of Elisha Ely Morgan, who began his life as a young farm boy and eventually became a very successful sea captain during the 1800s. As a young boy he wanted to leave the farm and venture out onto the sea, but it was finally the mysterious disappearance of one of his beloved older brothers (in conjunction with an increasingly difficult relationship with his father) that encouraged him out onto the open ocean. Once there, he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a captain of his own ship in his early twenties, and expanding his stock and leadership role in the ship's firm soon after.

What initially began as a story of his life on the seas attempting to find his brother transformed into an intricately woven tale about Ely's many adventures, from his time on the lowest rung of a ship, to his advent as captain, to the meeting of his wife and his many well-known friends, to the birth of his children.

This book was amazingly interesting to read. I've read novelizations of people's lives before, but this was particularly enthralling because I had never heard of the protagonist before; every twist and turn was brand new information to me.

That being said, I wish that I had known a bit more about the mechanics of a boat, specifically the large sailboats that were used for these purposes in the 1800s. Sometimes I felt a little lost by the technical jargon. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, especially the ending. Likewise, the author's note was incredibly thorough and thoughtful, which I appreciated as a history nerd. The author is actually a descendant of the protagonist in the book, so he related in the Author's Note how he went about searching and the importance of the research to himself.

It was sometimes difficult for me to keep track of what was happening in the book. There's quite a bit of jumping around, as well as significant time jumps for seemingly no reason. This led to the book sometimes feeling disjointed. There were some sections/chapters that were riveting, and then there were others where things were so slow-moving that I found myself asking, "Why did we stop here? Why did we jump to this part of his life?"

While I was riveted by the story, I was often taken out of it by some pretty intense dangling modifier problems. A few are evidenced below (any emphasis added was mine):
"Soon he spotted a narrow spit of land called Sandy Hook that marked the entrance to New York harbor, and the first mate gave the order to back the yards. From his perch in the topsail area, he could see the pilot boat and the speedy news schooners sailing quickly toward them, black-backed gulls riding the air currents around the hulls." (64) -- In this case, the first "he" refers to Ely, the captain. Then the first mate gives the order. However, in the sentence following that, the author says "From his perch..." Lloyd is again trying to refer to Ely, the captain, but the modifier implies that he is still speaking about the first mate. This could have been easily fixed by changing the second sentence to say, "From his perch in the topsail area, Ely could see the pilot..." 

"Morgan spotted the man with the pigtail who had told him where he might find Blackwood. He whispered softly as he went by, 'Say 'ello to Bill for me when ye find 'im.'" (89) -- In the second sentence, both of the pronouns refer to different "he"'s, which is incredibly confusing. I had to read this sentence at least twice to figure out who had done the whispering. 

"He turned back to the steerage section of the ship, his gaze pausing at an older man seated by the base of the foremast smoking a pipe. He reminded him of his father." (181) -- This is similar to the sentence above. The use of fewer pronouns and more names would have helped this sentence along a great deal. 

"It was the sale of the farm, she explained. At first, he had been depressed, but then he gradually came to enjoy his free time. He still mostly read the Bible, but he was also reading some poetry by Cowper and some of the frontier novels of Cooper. They had moved in with Josiah and because of his shortness of breath, he was forced to stay in the house." (257) -- In this section, Ely's mother is relating to him the struggles that Ely's father had been having recently (as an older man). In that last sentence, they moved in with Josiah, but Josiah is not the one who had the shortness of breath - the author is intending to still be referring to Ely's father.

Other than those few issues with sentences that took me out of the story, this was a great sweeping tale of family, adventure, danger, and romance. It is definitely worth a read for any history-minded folks if you have a bit of extra time, but it wouldn't have been a must for me if I hadn't received it through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.