Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"This Thing of Darkness" by Harry Thompson

This Thing of Darkness was given to me by my sweet mother-in-law over a year ago, but (probably more due to its sheer bulk than anything else) I kept pushing it aside in favor of other books. (Seriously. This one is SUPER long. It's almost thicker than it is wide. So maybe I'm exaggerating for effect . . . but just a bit.)

I'm glad I finally hefted it and dove in, though. It is what one surely could describe as a cracking good read. I took it slowly--savored it, if you will--and it was kind of a relief to relax my usual breakneck reading pace and focus on one book over the course of several weeks.

It's historical fiction (emphasis on the former), telling the story of Charles Darwin's voyages on the Beagle, though it focuses more on the lesser-known personage of the ship's captain, Robert FitzRoy. It is full of swash and buckle, adventure and misadventure, advancement of science and resistance to that advancement, noble sacrifice and its attempts to overcome ignoble greed in its various guises.

FitzRoy (at least as portrayed in this book) was quite an admirable man; as for Darwin, however, I just can't forget the ridiculous fact that one of the things his mule train carried into the Andes for him was a full bed, so that he wouldn't have to sleep on the ground. Come on, man! Grow some balls! Your monkey ancestors didn't need beds! (To be fair, though--beds in the wilderness aside--Darwin was not generally portrayed in a negative light.)

This was Thompson's only novel of note (his only other published works include a few biographies and one semi-autobiographical book) and there won't be another one, as he passed away at the young age of 45--the same year this book was published. But he should be proud of this swan song, because it's a really great book. And--judging by the author's note at the end--an amazing amount of research went into it, which was very evident to me as I read--the story has an indelible aura of authenticity.

This book would make a great TV miniseries. (BBC, are you listening?)

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