The Cruel Sea

There’s a type of writer I think of as belonging to the Collar and Tie Brigade.* Their writing is clean and clear, grammatically perfect, and devoid of stylistic flourishes. (No Gerald Kersh or Harlan Ellison.) They have a story to tell and they tell it, as simply and directly as they can. Examples would include Nigel Balchin, Margaret Drabble, Eric Ambler and the author of this book, Nicholas Monsarrat.**

After nearly 70 years, it’s still a good book. The characters are well-drawn. It’s carefully plotted. It takes its time telling its story, making sure that the reader is truly enveloped in the experiences of a corvette in World War II. If it reads a little too slowly now, that’s more a symptom of our Cut! Cut! Cut! social-media, image-obsessed age than any fault of Monsarrat’s.

And one section in particular, when he recounts several unconnected events – a line of dead sailors strung together and floating past the ship in the middle of the Atlantic; a burn victim’s ghastly wounds – is so vividly written that you forget where you are and what time of day it is. When you stop reading, you have to shake yourself to return to the present. And it’s the reason the book is staying in my collection.

 *I simply can’t imagine any of them sitting down to write without dressing ‘properly’, as if for a day at the office.

**Tom Wolfe would be an exception. He might have dressed more than smartly, but just about everything he wrote screamed ‘I’m writing here!’

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