Saturday, March 12, 2005

Author - Alistair MacLean

I greatly regret that i read all the Alistair Maclean's a long time ago and a diminishing memory will not allow me to do justice to his titles (and i don't think i could do that anyway but now it has even lesser chance). And the numerous books i have yet to read prevent me from going back and re reading these books.
Anyway For those who haven't yet read this author , do so , for those who have read some of his books but not all , what the hell are you waiting for?

HMS Ulysses
When i first read this book i gave it up after 100 pages. Too boring. I was used to books like Satan Bug, Ice Station Zebra and the other staple diet was Hardy Boys. A year or so later much more experienced and with the knowledge that no maclean could be a waste of my time, I sat and read this book again, understood why the books was so slow in the beginning and completed reading it. This book has the dubious distinction that i cried when i read it(i was only in the 6th or the 7th standard). It also changed my views completely about war and it was the first time i realized that something you read can change the way you view the world.
Note that so far all notions of war were romantic. I thought of shivaji besting the mughals. I thought of the good beating all the evil of the Ramayana. This was the first book i read about War in which all the good guys died. All of them(except the doctor and another guy who was indestructible). The Captain who even if he died should you would think be the last to die and only after beating the Germans dies half way through the book. The character whose name i cant remember who commits a form of suicide because he killed a person in the mutiny. The character who has to torpedoes his father's ship. The character who gives his girlfriends handkerchief to the doctor. All sentimental stuff. But they did bring home one lesson. In a war everyone loses. I have been staunchly against any sort of war ever since. Not those fought for religion, not those for territory(yes i refer to Kashmir), certainly not those for oil.
The other striking thing in the books was that the *enemy* was always smart. Not a caricature. (I'm reminded of Warren Ellis in the introduction of Queen And Country where he said The Tom clancy's of the world , when the cold war ended simply replaced the Russians with another community and carried on writing as before - i don't read tom clancy). And sometimes you felt sympathy for them. The best example of course is The Last frontier. But its true of his other novels as well
Satan Bug was the first Maclean I read from my Moms Library in BPT. A fast paced book completely entertaining and I'm lucky i read this when still in the thrall of Franklin Dixon. If i had HMS Ulysses at that point i may never have read an Alistair Maclean again
The other ones that stand out in memory are Ice Station zebra and The Dark crusader (this almost made me cry but not quite).
And Sir George And the Dragon (i think it was) in the collection of The Lonely sea was too funny.
And i have shamelessly used his line from Fear is the Key "Eternity is a long time, Eternity Lasts Forever..... But ill be waiting" though completely out of context of course(It was in a romantic context for those interested , though in the book its said by a murderer plotting revenge against the protagonist)

It has been said that the public devoured his work and the critics hated it. Indeed i think that the first review that Maclean himself read said Burn this Book (the review was for HMS Ulysses) and since then Maclean didn't read reviews. I sometimes wonder who the critics were reviewing the book for? It cant be for the common man because they seldom agree.

Surprisingly i think that the most famous of the Maclean Books the Guns of Navarone, Where eagles dare , When eight bells toll i like but they aren't what i consider his best. Perhaps the view is colored by the movies (The outrage you feel when you see Hollywood changing the characters from male to female in Guns of navarone - The change of the scaling of the mountain in guns of navarone to a 5 minute sequence which looks so fake - though i guess that was because of the time).

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