Sunday, August 23, 2015

The African Queen by C. S. Forester

The African Queen
by C. S. Forester
1935
*****
5 stars - an adventure worth reading more than once
ALR Blue - no animals


It's hard to say whether this is really a five star book or it's just that I read and loved this book as a teenager and so it holds a five star place in my heart. Reading it for the third (or possibly the fourth) time, it's certainly a different experience for me than it was 40 years ago.

For those few not familiar with the story, here's a synopsis.

Rose Sayer is working as a missionary with her brother in Central Africa. Rose has lived a sheltered life and, now in her early thirties, has known little other than blind obedience to God, social norms, and subservience to her Reverend Brother. So when her brother succumbs to some sort of jungle disease, Rose is a bit at odds what to do. The Germans have recently invaded their mission and taken everything. Rose is alone in the middle of Africa.

Enter Charlie Allnutt. A small, rather disgusting man of indeterminate age who makes his living ferrying goods up and down the central African rivers. Upon discovering that Allnutt's boat happens to be carrying explosives, Rose determines that the two of them will make an impossible journey down the winding African river network to blow up a German patrol ship that is guarding a strategic lake.

And off they go. For folks who have seen the movie, let me say that the book is grittier. Forester does an admirable job describing the perils of the African jungle. You don't need wild animals to suffer. The heat, muck, and insects will do that just fine. 

Don't want to provide spoilers, but it shouldn't be any surprise that a man and a woman in desperate conditions eventually form a, well, "relationship." In my mind, this will always be less an adventure story and more of a romance. My young brain certainly found the interpersonal doings in the book far more titillating than the rather staid activities in the movie version.

All in all, worth reading. Not a lot of fuss or deep thoughts going on here. Just a straightforward adventure. There are a few literary delights as in this passage where Allnutt considers the urgency of "striking a blow for England" by heading down river:

Allnutt's impression was that they might start tomorrow if the gods were unkind; next week if they were favourable. To set off like this, at half an hour's notice, to torpedo the German navy seemed to him unseemly, or at least unnatural.

Lest anybody be in doubt regarding C. S. Forester's target audience (I'm thinking young men and boys), behold a different rendering of the cover art.


Oh my.

1 comment:

  1. I"m pretty sure I never read this. And I'm pretty sure that cover would have been fairly scandalous in 1935.

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