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The Rope Eater Hardcover – December 30, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour, Volume 5 by Louis L'Amour
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The limits of human endurance, man's instinct for survival and dogged perseverance characterize The Rope Eater, Ben Jones's debut novel. After deserting the Union side in the Civil War, 17-year-old Brendan Kane heads north to New Bedford and signs on with an expedition sailing north to conduct Arctic exploration. A crew of ragtag shipmates is formed. None of them has any survival training, appropriate clothing for the harsh elements, possessions, or close ties--nor do they have a better idea than sailing on the Narthex for a purpose unknown to them. They are all outsiders, misfits, or men with a need to get out of town, for whatever reasons. One of the crew says, "Two years of work, maybe more, low wages, but a shot at some real money if it goes well." This hope for something that could change their lives keeps them going when the odds against them become overwhelming.

After several weeks at sea, the Captain tells them that they are looking for a "temperate archipelago covered by trees of fantastic colors that grew from the heat of the earth rather than the sun--a lush Garden of Eden in the heart of the Arctic." This is not happy news for men who have been fantasizing legendary gold mines. The voyage continues through the most hostile environment imaginable. The men are always cold, wet, hungry, and at the mercy of the capricious movement of icebergs--it is a bleak, horrific life aboard ship, unrelieved throughout the entire book. Jones's writing is starkly beautiful, filled with authentic details about ships, the Arctic reaches, navigation, ship handling, weather and exposure. There are echoes here of Cold Mountain and The Navigator of New York.

The descent into madness of Dr. Architeuthis, an obsessive taker of measurements; Aziz, the three-handed Muslim boiler-tender who tells Brendan the awful story of rope-eaters; the vagaries of the rest of the crew--these all add color and welcome texture to the gray-white sameness of being surrounded by icebergs. Readers who revel in the hardships and exploits of Ernest Shackleton, William Laird McKinlay, or Robert Falcon Scott will enjoy this story of men against nature in its most relentlessly unforgiving aspects. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Jones's haunting, gorgeous debut chronicles the travels and travails of Brendan Kane, a young Union Army deserter who joins the crew of the Arctic-bound Narthex. The ship is owned by the enigmatic, pianola-playing Mr. West and directed by Dr. Architeuthis, an eccentric who spends his days performing strange navigational experiments. The rest of the crew is an odd assortment of prisoners, outcasts and cheerful thugs, none of whom know the true purpose of the voyage. Eventually, West and Architeuthis reveal that the ship is bound for a mythical, lush and paradisiacal valley they believe is hidden in the stark expanse of the furthest northern regions. The Narthex makes her way through terrible storms and vast fields of grinding ice before she must be abandoned and the men continue the search on foot and in small boats. Nestled within the story of the quest is the fascinatingly grotesque but lyrical tale of the village where Aziz, the three-handed engine tender, grew up; there, parents committed crimes against their children in the name of opportunity, and "[a]t night the peaks echoed with the screams and cries of children and of mothers and the howling of madmen and the wind." (It is here that mesmerized readers will learn, to their horror, what the term rope eater refers to.) The voyage continues, with the men-enduring all the privations of Shackleton and Scott-reduced to frozen, rotting husks fueled only by courage, will and a brute instinct for self-preservation. Readers may determine that this bleak, harshly beautiful story is almost as exhausting as the Arctic trek itself, but those who persevere will find the journey astonishing.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385509774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385509770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,430,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While home for the holidays I picked up The Rope Eater after reading a review of it in the Denver Post. Jones's use of language creates a richly mezmerizing and haunting world that envelopes the reader completely. I haven't enjoyed a book this much since Cold Mountain. And like the main character's unrelenting heart, which drives him out into the world, the reader is driven out on a journey that is as much a spiritual and philosophical thriller as it is a seafaring adventure. The passages describing the tribe of rope eaters are terrifying and breathtaking and the resolution left me profoundly moved. This is an unforgettable book.
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Format: Hardcover
Part way through the book I looked up "narthex." It's an antechamber of a church in which penitents wait. That, plus the opening with the heart beating strongly, the quest for an "Eden," the silver "chalice," which the narrator finds in Asiz's frozen hands, the strange story of the rope eater, the birth canal experience in which the narrator slithers through the glacier, looking for a way out to paradise only to return to hell make me think there's more to this story than I have quite figured out to my satisfaction. That's one of the reasons I like it so much. The details ring true without self-conscious display of scholarship. The narrator remains enigmatic, and I am hoping someone has some insights into allegorical interpretations.
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By A Customer on January 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book. I read a review in the Washington Post, having never heard of the novel before, and bought it on a whim. It was completely worth it. Some other books I read over Christmas break were The Bridge at San Luis Rey, The Hunters, and The Satanic Verses, and the The Rope Eater was by far the one I most enjoyed. This is an excellent novel with (as every review points out) echoes of Conrad and Melville, and I know that I'll be reading it again in the next few months.
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Format: Paperback
This is a first person account of a trip to the arctic in the 1860's narrated by a Civil War deserter. Within the first few pages, our hero enlists, pilfers letters off battlefield corpses, deserts, is injured in NYC draft riots, ends up in New Bedford, MA and signs up on a sailing ship without ryhme or reason or knowing where it was going. The book was downhill from there.

Page after page described ice and the crew's interminable struggles to get through. Getting through the book was nearly as interminable.

The reader never gets to know the narrator enough to empathize with him, or really understand him at all. Thus, his struggles ring hollow and he evokes no sympathy during his struggles.

There are elements of fantasy in the book. Not enough to make it a fantasy, but enough to steer a reader off course. The scientist on the mission is after a warm Garden of Eden in the middle of the Arctic. He is mad or it's fantasy, it is hard to know until the end. There is a fantasy interlude when a character who has three hands (the most likeable character in the book) describes how he got his third hand. From that yarn comes the title "Rope Eater". The title really has nothing to do with the book, other than rope eaters and the crew members suffered pain.

Besides the tedious turning of the plot, the characters lack any development. Only the three handed man and the captain, both tangential characters, had any depth whatsoever.

This book seemed to be an attempt at adventure, but not enough happened between the interminable accounts of ice to build much tension. It never developed the aspect of the deterioration of the characters - mentally and physically - it just happened.
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By A Customer on January 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I saw this reviewed in the New York Times Book Review on Jan. 11th and decided to read it. It's a deep and brilliant novel that gives a vivid account of the challenges of artic exploration as well as a thoughtful analysis of the good and the evil that exists in the world.
It's a wonderful read and you will come back to it again and again.
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Format: Hardcover
I was in Chapter 11, the bookstore chain not the legal state, when a salesperson said that this would soon be the new hot book. Her book club was reading it and she said she was only 120 pages into it, but that I should buy it. I had been well steered by her in the past. What a find. This is a thriller more than a historical novel. I read it in one weekend. That is rare for me.
Damn fun reading.
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