Dan Sandman

Archive for November, 2016|Monthly archive page

48: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Poetry on 25/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

mr-midshipman-hornblower-by-c-s-foresterThis week I have been reading my first Hornblower book as part of my research into the significance of the sea story in English Literature. Separate from this, I wrote a couple of poems in Camden Town on my day off.


47: The North Water by Ian McGuire

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Horror on 18/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-north-water-by-ian-mcguireSumner is an Irish doctor on a whaleboat full of untoward characters, including a psychopathic killer called Drax. He has recently been wrongly dismissed from the army and is addicted to laudanum. When the cabin boy is violated and then found strangled to death, things start to go terrible wrong for Sumner and the whole ship’s crew. What ensues is a gripping, violent and gruesome horror story. Sumner must fight for his life, as the arctic freeze and the villain Drax conspire against his chances of survival.

What makes this novel different to most other historical sea stories are the swear words, which would be hard to imagine in anything written more than fifty years ago. McGuire sets out to shock and thrill the reader from the very first chapter, where we are immediately introduced to expletive language. The questionable morals of the characters are used to amuse the reader, as the plot becomes increasingly more macabre. Overall, the tone of the book is playful and intended as entertainment.

Sea adventure stories have long been a popular staple of the British public. Television series and films have been made of the most popular books, such as the Hornblower on ITV and Master and Commander starring Russel Crowe. These adaptations are all part of a long tradition of popular fiction stretching back to Robinson Crusoe.  I am going to be researching sea stories in the coming weeks as a potential topic for my MA dissertation.

What would you write about for your dissertation?

46: The War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon

In Books, Poetry on 11/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-war-poems-by-siegfried-sassoonThe best known of the war poets are poets first and soldiers second. In the case of Siegfried Sassoon, his use of rhyme and metre is crafted with poetic expertise. It is Sassoon’s mastery of poetic technique which makes his poems aesthetically appealing, giving them an artistic quality which reaches out beyond the label Poets of the Great War. I expect literary history will recognize this in another hundred years, meanwhile such categorical lumping will suffice.

It is his turn to pacifism that is so often remembered about Sassoon; how his early war poems celebrate the glorious dead but his front-line poems are what he reservedly calls ‘outspoken’ (pp.10), or what might today be termed protest poems. When he is writing from the trenches in 1916, before being awarded the Military Cross for gallantry action in June of that year, his poems become increasingly full of the pacifism for which he is remembered. This period culminates in a poem addressed directly to Robert Graves, the Great War poet who is often criticized for his forthright imperialism. Writing in May, during a period of convalescence, Sassoon writes a beautifully crafted verse letter to Graves, ending the poem with the juxtaposition of two conflicting ideals: the brutal reality of warfare and the hope that good will conquer evil.


Robert, there’s a war in France;

Everywhere men bang and blunder,

Sweat and swear and worship chance,

Creep and blink through cannon thunder.

Rifles crack and bullets flick,

Sing and hum like hornet-swarms.

Yet, through stunning battle storms,

All the while I watch the spark

Lit to guide me; for I know

Dreams will triumph, through the dark

Scowls above we where I go.

You can hear me; you can mingle

Radiant folly with my jingle.

War’s a joke for me and you

While we know such dreams are true!

45: Youth by J.M. Coetzee

In Autobiography, Biography, Books, Fiction, Non-Fiction on 04/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

youth-by-j-m-coetzeeHe is an undergraduate at Cape Town University studying mathematics and sleeping with an older woman. This will be the first in a series of unhappy sexual relationships. His wish is to be a poet and he studies the work of Ezra Pound. Unhappy with the state of South Africa, he emigrates to London and finds a computer programming job with IBM. For pleasure, he goes to the Everyman to watch foreign films. He hopes that living in a big European city will make him a better poet.

The voice of this fictional memoir is the he voice used above and preferred by J.M. Coetzee in much of his best work. By not using the more convention voice, Coetzee allows himself to be distanced from his memories. This makes it easier for him to comment negatively on his own life; the he voice being unattached from the autobiographical content. It is a novel way to write and should be recommended to writers as an experiment.

I enjoyed this book and would purchase it for a friend. It is about a young person’s search for love and fulfilling work. This is something which most people can relate to. This hardback was borrowed from Keats’ Community Library, near where much of the novel is set. Youth is preceded by Boyhood, and is followed by Summertime.

All worth reading.