By "the famous norteamerican woman's writer"
HARRY THOMPSON. This Thing Of Darkness
596 pgs. 2006
"I picked up this title in London because it was long-listed (i.e., nominated but not a finalist) for Britain's famed Booker Prize for fiction.
Do not let the title put you off - this is not some kind of bodice-ripper romance. Rather, this massive and engaging novel entwines the real-life stories of the 1820s-era HMS Beagle's famous passenger, the naturalist Charles Darwin, and its unfairly forgotten captain, Robert FitzRoy. In the first three sections of this six-section book, author Harry Thompson does a most excellent imitation of a Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin novel - all near-death adventures at the hand of the vicious seas off South America, strange encounters with the natives, and the like. The leads even bear a passing resemblance to O'Brian's heroes: , Captain FitzRoy is a natural sailor whose men are devoted to him (like O'Brian's Jack Aubrey). He has impeccable "leave no man behind" values and heaps and heaps of derring-do. Darwin is lean and eccentric, and obsessed with the natural world (like O'Brian's Maturin). One almost suspects that O'Brian had FitzRoy and Darwin in mind, so close seems the resemblance.
In sections 4 through 6, however, Thompson runs up against the common curse of the novelist who bases his plot on historical events - he feels obliged to include scenes, characters, and entire plotlines because the historical record requires them, rather than because they make dramatic or literary "sense." So, if FitzRoy is appointed Governor of New Zealand and makes a mess of it, you're going to hear about it for 30 pages or so. If FitzRoy's career is sabotaged by political enemies and he spends the rest of his life managing a minuscule weather-forecasting department in a back corner of the Navy, this will take perhaps 200 pages to tell. The birth and death of Fitzroy's and Darwin's many many children must be told. This back half of the novel is actually fairly interesting - Thompson is a very engaging writer - but it lacks the dash and drive of the first half.
Still, quite gripping, and, despite 700+ pages, definitely worth your time. "