Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Ripping Good Yarn

The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers - Oxford World's Classics

I have been reading this book over the last couple of weeks. It was strange therefore, almost a trifle diconcerting, when I paged through Saturday's Telegraph magazine and came upon an article that had borrowed the title of the book for its own banner headline. One of those collisions of coincidence I suppose.


Childers' gentle spy novel reminded me of Buchan's writings. They aren't separated by that many years and their heroes are from the same Oxbridge stratum with very similar views towards King and Country. Public school, Trinity College Cambridge, service in the Boer War Childers was initially very much a son of Empire and a believer in it. I wonder what damascene event resulted in his political volte face and led him inexorably to his early death on the wrong side of a firing squad?


Childers draws extensively on his knowledge of yachting and the Fresian Islands in this his only novel. There is no doubt that this is an author who wrote well about what he knew. He didn't have to swot up on the subject. There is a deftness in his use of nautical terms. Perhaps the denouement is a trifle weak and predictable but the author navigates the reader through the sinuos channels towards the conclusion with more than a degree of competency. Not a spiffing yarn but a jolly good one.


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