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The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat

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Author: Nicholas Monsarrat / Genre: Fiction

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    2 Reviews
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      29.01.2010 02:01
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      A classic military book, now reissued in paperback

      This review is for the paperback book "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monsarrat. This book was first published in 1951, but has recently been republished by Penguin Books as part of their World War Two collection.

      The basic plot of the book follows a group of sailors who are fighting on a ship in World War Two. They are working on a Royal Navy ship which crosses the Atlantic Ocean as a convoy boat helping ensure that cargo is delivered to Britain from the United States.

      There are many characters in the book, but probably the primary two are Lieutenant Commander George Ericson, who is an experienced sailor, and Lockhart, the Sub-Lieutenant. They are working on the HMS Compass Rose. This ship doesn't have an entirely successful end, and they are moved to work on HMS Saltash, which does make it to the end of the war.

      There are a lot of messages in the book, but primarily I thought the most important was how the various sailors dealt with each other and dealt with the situation that they were in. It is easy to forget that so many of the sailors fighting in the war were in their teens or twenties, and must have found the situation they found themselves in as frightening and incredibly hard to deal with. Although George Ericson is an experienced sailor, many of the crew on board have had minimal experience, much of land, and find themselves crewing a ship difficult and confusing.

      The book as a whole in my view does feel very realistic and there is a real feeling of atmosphere in the dialogue and plot. It's especially good in showing the very difficult situation of the new recruits and how they are treated by the more senior sailors on the ship. A lot of this is likely down to the experiences which the author had in the Second World War, as he was working for The Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an officer on a convoy ship.

      The problem I've had with some other books in this genre, and especially with military films, is that they focus on the big battles and dramatic text in books or special effects in films. They often sketch over many of the characters to have just one or two heroes, which they focus on. This book though concentrates well on the inter-action of individuals, and it's positive that the author has focused on the individuals so carefully.

      Once you've read the book, if you are interested in seeing how others interpret this book, a film version of the book was made in 1953. The film became a classic in its own right, starring Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden and Virginia McKenna amongst others. The film doesn't entirely follow the book, but is definitely worth a watch if you enjoy the book. It is available quite widely on DVD for relatively cheap prices.

      The book itself retails for 8.99 pounds, which is quite a substantial price for a paperback book in my view, but is 448 pages which does explain some of this price! You can however buy this book for 6.59 pounds from Amazon at the time of writing. if you're happy with a second hand copy, there are many different editions available on sites such as eBay and Amazon, from around three pounds including postage.

      In summary, I really enjoyed this book and it is one of the best military books that I've read. There is a real atmosphere in the book which shines through, and the dialogue and the plot are very realistic. It is positive that this classic has been republished by Penguin Books, and hopefully more readers will now get to read this literary title. It's also a great reminder of all the work done by so many in the convoys to help supplies get through to the UK throughout the war.

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      03.11.2000 01:38
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      ==++ UPDATE ++== Although this opinion is more about the book than the film I have updated it slightly to bring to the attention of the DooYoo members that the film will be shown on Channel 4 on Sunday the 9th September 2001 at 2.00pm. Watch and weep for the souls who lost their lives as they strove to keep us out from under the jackboot of the Nazi regime so that we may now enjoy writing opinions on DooYoo. ==++ END OF UPDATE ++== Nicholas Monserratt’s famous book The Cruel Sea tells the story of how two ships went to war in the cold and inhospitable North Atlantic to shepherd home the convoys that were the lifeline of Britain during the Second World War. Unlike most other war stories of the sea, this book recognised that not only officers manned the ships but ratings as well. They were all caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse against the Nazi U boats and the occasional surface raider and all had personal lives to go back to if they survived the rigours of the Cruel Sea. Some didn't and some of those who did found that their shoreside connection had been blasted out of existence by the bombs of the Luftwaffe. HMS Compass Rose, a corvette, and her men braved the stormy waters of the North Atlantic as they watched ship after ship being torpedoed and sent to the bottom with all of the precious cargo and most of their crew. Their only respite from this carnage was when the sea turned rough but then it was no respite at all as a small ship like a corvette would be tossed around like a cork. With red rimmed eyes and tired limbs the crew of the Compass Rose sought solace with their loved ones ashore in between trips, if they still survived, or had stayed around and not found pastures new. This is a harrowing tale of the real war at sea where the blood and the guts of the man made hell became the normal way of living, and dying. Compass Rose too took a tin fish in the belly and tossed her valiant crew i
      nto the dark grey waters a mere fraction above freezing point. For some death was a blessed release as the cold ate at the very soul and they slipped away to meet Davy Jones. Those destined to survive clung to wreckage and flotsam, to be eventually rescued. Only to be asked to go back to sea in HMS Saltash Castle a frigate, to carry on and fight the war for England. A film of the same name starring Jack Hawkins as the Captain of Compass Rose did it's best to follow the book but no film could tell the tale as it could be read. However it did capture some of the essence of the story particularly in one horrendous scene where the captain had to decide whether to pursue his attack on a submerged submarine or to stop and pick up survivors. His dilemma was heightened by the fact that his asdics (called sonar now) indicated that the sub was right underneath the thirty souls in the water and to make his attack he had to steam right through them and drop his depth charges amongst them as he did so. If you read this book be prepared to be shocked, frightened and overwhelmed with the anguish of it all. Although fiction it does tell the story of what it was really like on the Atlantic convoys not just for the men of the Royal Navy but the Merchant Marine as well.

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    • Product Details

      Maritime adventure set in World War II, this book tells the tale of the men aboard the HMS Compass Rose.