Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: The Sea and the Jungle by H.M. Tomlinson

This is meant to be a classic travelogue from 1909 / 1910, telling of a tramp steamer's voyage from Swansea into the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. I must admit I was disappointed.

Partly it was because its attitudes to race have aged badly. Unlike the vastly better The Surgeon's Log, there was no awaking of a more open attitude as the voyage continued.

Then there was the language. If you have read "Cold Comfort Farm" you will remember there are purple passages clearly signposted with stars. Here its just text.

Take this description of dawn at sea:

"It was still virgin, bearing a vestal light. It had not been soiled yet by any suspicion of this trampled planet, this muddy star, which its innocent and tenuous rays had discovered in the region of night... Its light was tremulous, as if with joy and eagerness. .. The world was miraculously renewed. It rose, and received the new-born of Aurora in its arms. There was cloud of pearl above hills of chrysoprase."

So no Hemingway then.

The biggest problem is it goes on and on for over 350 pages and not much happens. Yes, they trundle across the Atlantic to the mouth of the Amazon and still have over a thousand NM to go. But they do eventually get to Porto Vello up the Madeira river with their supplies for a railway being built there, after much discussion of mosquitoes and butterflies.

There is a short diversion though the jungle while unloading the ship, which gets that most damming of comparisons:

"The forest was nothing like the paradise a tropical wild is supposed to be. It was as uniformly dingy as the old stones of a  London street on a November evening."

It did indeed remind me of the heart of darkness, but without the ride of the Valkyries and smell of napalm in the morning (ok, ok, that is Apocolapse Now, but same story base).

Characters are thin, described as the Skipper, Chief and Doctor; the later is left in Brazil without even a goodbye.

There's too much of the little Englander well outside his comfort zone and it really could be edited down a lot.


Alden Smith said...

The passage that you quoted sounds verbose and pretentious - almost as if the author is trying to copy a style that he thinks is valid - he would have been better to have avoided stylistic contrivances and written from the heart - the best writing I think is like that - NOT that I am any sort of expert - BUT a book like this could be useful late at night to help you go to sleep.

Chris Partridge said...

I find I have a nice first edition that I bought but never read, but neither did any of the previous owners...the pages are still uncut. I will give it a go...if nothing else, the pictures are lovely.

JP said...

You have pictures plural? I just have the one (posted).