- Series: Classics of War
- Paperback: 520 pages
- Publisher: Burford Books; Ex-Library edition (March 14, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781580800464
- ISBN-13: 978-1580800464
- ASIN: 1580800467
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 242 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Cruel Sea (Classics of War) Paperback – March 14, 2000
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From Library Journal
One of the classic naval adventure stories of World War II, Monsarrat's novel tells the tale of two British ships trying to escape destruction by wolf pack U-boats hunting in the North Atlantic. The book was a smash when released in 1951, going through numerous printings. This is the first paperback edition available in ages.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"An impressive novel, portraying the war at sea with emotion, drama, tenderness and terror." (Chicago Tribune)
"Powerful...the dominant quality of this sturdy novel is compassion." (Atlantic Monthly)
"A whale of a story...Solidly conceived and well executed."
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Nicholas Monsarrat's five and a half years spent in the British Navy during World War Two deeply informs this novel. It is a realistic novel that captures the feel of what it must have been like to serve in a small Corvette in the North Atlantic. Plenty of cold and tedious work highlighted by moments of sheer terror and confusion. There are no false heroics to ruin this beautifully written novel. "The Cruel Sea" is a great book and a must purchase for anyone wanting to learn more about naval warfare in the north Atlantic.
And that's where the trouble began. As a professional and moderately successful writer myself, I often tend to be critical of other authors. I can detect where they took shortcuts, created cardboard characters, or developed vague and unrealistic plot lines. But occasionally a story hooks me in, makes me go along with the necessary suspension of belief that the writer creates.
Rarely do I get to the next level, which is outright jealousy of the writer. I find myself wishing I could have written something like that, said something that makes a permanent impression, or imagined something so vivid and realistic that it defies comparison. And when the author manages that feat again and again, it makes for a compelling read that stays in your mind forever.
One of the other reviewers here mentioned something about Monsarrat's `lyrical' descriptions. They are far more than that. For example, in the movie version of Titanic we watched a gripping visual of the passengers and crew tumbling into the sea, into water so cold that it will soon kill them. In "The Cruel Sea," the crew is forced onto rafts off the Icelandic coast, and soon, one by one, the weak and the strong start to die. The author's fine writing takes us into the bone-chilling water with the crew, lets us imagine the thoughts whirling through their minds at doom's swift approach, and presents us with an horrific image of the worst kind of death.
One example. "She was beautiful - not in a remote fashion, but with a face which beckoned, a mouth formed only for kissing, and a body so soft, so shapely, and so glowing that its only conceivable purpose was to fuse the sinewed imprint of a man's... her body seemed to flicker for his delight . . . whenever she wanted, she could promote this frenzy."
That, boys and girls, is good writing.
Another example. "Here in Gladstone Dock was the hard shell for the convoys, the armour of the Atlantic; it did not shine, it was dented here and there, it was unquestionably spread thin and strained to the limit of endurance; but it had stood the test of two brutal years, and it would hold as long as the war held, and for five minutes longer."
That is a description of men, of a navy, of a nation, committed to battle, who will not yield and will never give up despite the enemy's advantages in men and material.
One last snippet concerning a visit to sickbay. "As he stepped into the crowded, badly-lit space, he no longer felt the primitive revulsion of two years ago, when all this was new and harassing. But there was nothing changed in the dismal picture, nothing was any the less crude or moving or repellent. There were the same rows of survivors - wet through, dirt-streaked, shivering: the same reek of oil and seawater: the same relief on one face, the same remembered terror on another."
When a writer can accomplish something like that, you know the book will stay with you long after you put it down. Some of my personal favorites, where I felt much the same sense of admiration for the authors are "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hellenbrand, for many passages in JR Tokien's "Lord of the Rings," for Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," and for William Gibson's "Neuromancer," to name just a few.
Monserrat's story, though the style is a bit dated, is a challenging read, a long voyage that will break your heart along the way. But it will be worth the journey, and every reader will bond with different passages, the ones that resonate and reach out to him or her alone.