Mutiny on the Bounty
In December 1787, a fourteen-year-old boy, John Jacob Turnstile, is arrested in Portsmouth for picking the pocket of a mysterious Frenchman. Due to his victim’s intercession he is offered the chance to go to sea as a captain’s servant boy rather than serve a term in prison. This would have the makings of a good enough story in itself but it is about to get much better, for John Jacob’s master is William Bligh, and the ship on which he is to sail is the HMS Bounty.
This is a long book, but so well written and well paced you hardly notice it. Perhaps Boyne does repeat himself occasionally, but his repetitions are so grounded in John Jacob’s own voice – for he tells us his extraordinary life story in his own words – that they work to reveal the narrator’s character and preoccupations rather than to distract us from the narrative. The voice is terrific, clearly derived from the great 18th century confessional novels but not overloaded with archaisms. The characters of Bligh and Christian and the other crew members are revealed with great skill and perception.
Never mentioned, yet always present, are the two great revolutions of the period, those challenges to established authority which would help to ensure that Fletcher Christian would come down to us as a heroic champion of democracy and individual liberty and Bligh as the ogre fixed in our imaginations by Charles Laughton. Yet Boyne’s is a very different picture, in which Christian emerges as a selfish and tyrannical hedonist and Bligh as a man of great courage and high moral principle.
A wonderful read. Highly recommended.