The Terror by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Opening sentence: Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship under attack by celestial ghosts.
I’m absolutely exhausted. The part of me that was on the H.M.S Terror, the part of me that walked the ice to Erebus, the part of me that felt the hunger and the cold and the pain and the horror through every leg of the journey with Captain Crozier and his men is beyond relieved that this journey is over leaving me with no more damage than chilly feet.
This book came with my November subscription to the Nocturnal Reader’s Box, otherwise it might well have gone unread by me and I have to say I’m glad it didn’t because it’s a great piece of historic fiction.
There are a few words that come to mind that describe this novel, Heavy is probably the most important among them. Heavy doesn’t have to do with the fact that the book is 766 pages, although that does take it’s toll. It’s about how much true grit it holds.
To anyone not familiar with nautical and naval terminology, the story can be a little confusing at first but you get well acquainted with the ship and it’s people soon enough. The number of people on board the two ships, Terror and Erebus, were so large that at first I started writing them down along with their ranks to keep track of them:
but found that the writer makes it a point to mention the ranks of men again and again to help the reader. I was however, lost sometimes when it came to the layout of the ship which is, not surprisingly, mentioned again and again throughout the book. The story and it’s details are very well researched. From the geography of the areas, to the protocols of a ship right down to the cause and effects of disease and illnesses.
Another important word that describes this book is ‘cold’. Not in the most obvious way, which of course applies since just the description of f-70 degree temperatures were enough to make me want to bundle up and also to make icy landscapes in my artwork:
but also because it takes no prisoners. There is a brutality in the writing that compliments the bleakness of the characters’ situations.
An interesting example of that would be when the predicament of being trapped in a frozen sea on board a weakening ship fast running out of supplies brings to mind the question “would you eat human flesh for survival?” When the story continues to bring desperate hunger to realization time and time again, I found that my own answer to this would be a disquieting yes. How many can really say without a doubt that they would be able to resist that temptation once you feel your body eating you from the inside to stay alive?
An interesting thing to note in the tumult of emotions this book brings to you is that the fear and true horror is very rarely from the supernatural element in the story. More than anything it makes you realize how cruel nature and the world can be. Under these circumstances the human creature is capable of evil just as terrifying as anything supernatural the mind has dreamed up.
I have two issues with this novel. One is obviously the size of it. 700+ pages that sometimes felt unnecessary and stretched out can sometimes make even the most well studied elements begin to resemble ramblings. The second is the ending. Without trying to give anything away, I have to say that if I do make my way through a book this size I expect the result to be more…decisive. It was unusual to say the least and left me feeling a little hollow inside. The book suddenly seemed to take a turn into a genre which it had not been a huge part of throughout the whole story and that, in my opinion, took a lot away from it.
This is clearly not a book for lightweight readers. Do not think of this as a pleasure read or a simple adventure. This is a serious voyage that requires some level of commitment to it if you plan on going the whole way. If you liked “The Revenant” then you might understand what I mean, but keep in mind this is a book so it has all the sordid details that a simple movie would lack.
Favorite Lines :
1. Rats, as Crozier knows from the sad experience of thirteen winters in the ice, tend to eat one’s friends quietly and efficiently, except for their frequent screeching and the blood-maddened and ravenous vermin turn on one another. (pg. 13)
2. At times, especially late at night with the ice moaning, Francis Rawdon, Moira Crozier realizes that HMS Terror is his wife, mother, bride and whore. (pg. 34)
3. I had heard the phrase “not enough room to swing a cat in” since I was a boy, but never had I understood it until this moment. (pg. 337)
4. “All this natural misery,” Dr. Goodsir said suddenly. “Why do you men have to add to it? Why does our species always have to take our full measure of God-given misery and terror and mortality and then make it worse? Can you answer me that, Mr. Hickey?” (pg. 639)
5. If there is a Hell- in which I no longer believe, since this earth and some of the people in it are hell enough for any universe- I would be and should be cast down to the worst bolgia of the lowest circle. (pg. 673)
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