Newest Review: ... 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 wit... more
Great military read - The Cruel Sea
The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat
Member Name: julwhite
The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat
Advantages: Good development of characters
Disadvantages: Unfortunately a reminder of how bad the War was for so many
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.
Summary: A classic military book, now reissued in paperback