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A Modern Ancient Mariner
on September 10, 2016
I have to lead off by giving Nancy Holder credit for coming up with one of the most original ideas structuring a horror novel: using Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner as a thematic backdrop for a modern tale of horror on the high seas. And this extended narrative allusion is no gimmick; Holder knows the poem well, and she uses it--as well as references to the Mary Celeste, the Flying Dutchman, and even Homer's Odyssey-- to construct an original, horrifying, and at times gut-churningly graphic maritime horror tale.
The best features of the novel include a hypnotic, seductive narrative voice and a tremendously escalating sense of dread as the passengers on a refitted Vietnam-era navy boat now serving as a freighter set sail from Long Beach, CA to Hawaii cruise into a mysterious fog… and disaster at sea. Each of the passengers has been touched in some way by death, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, and each finds that rescue from drowning can be worse than death itself.
Unfortunately, Holder is unable to keep up the mounting suspense, and as the passengers are rescued (or are they?) by the HMS Pandora, the novel flounders about like a ship lost at sea. The sense of the narrative grinding to a halt is almost audible, huge gears grinding against each other for the middle third of the novel, until the action picks up again for the horrifying conclusion.
Ultimately, I am happy to report, there is much more of worth in this book that annoyances. Perhaps with better editing, this could have become a modern classic of highly literate terror. But still, as is, this is an ocean-going voyage of terror that I can recommend.