Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Raleigh on the Rocks is...

...an article.  I mean - really?  This slight story about a British warship that runs aground in "Canada" and is scuttled 4 years later, only to cause problems in the ensuing decades due to the fact there is was still live ammunition aboard it some 70 years later is not a book.  There's barely enough story to fill an article.  Rohmer tries valiantly to create a stirring story where none exists - the result is a mess of conjecture, supposition and assumption that stretches out past 200 pages (!) due to the inclusion of page after page of documentation that is supposed to tell the story.  Unlike the writer, whose job it apparently is is to show you all this great research so you can say "yup - there sure is a story in there somewhere"

...an appendix disguised as a book.  Document after document after document.  After document.  All documented to prove that good research can make a book.  Why would you need anything else?

...unfinished.  The last two pages (spoiler alert) is a letter from Rohmer to the powers that be demanding answers that by date of publication had not arrived.

Try though he may (or did he really try?) there's just no story here.  He tries to turn "Vice-admiral Sir William Pakenham, KCB, KCMG, KCVO, Commander-in-chief of Britain's North Atlantic and West Indies Fleet" (Rohmer has never met a title he didn't love writing out for effect) into a character - once introduced, he is referred to as "Pak" so you get the idea of what kind of upstanding career naval man we're dealing with.  That or Rohmer feels that every story needs an "old Blood and Guts" at it's center. But there is nothing in the research that makes him out to be the colourful character he desperately wants us to believe he is.

In fact, nobody is.  Everyone in this story is dramatized by assumptions (read: wild guess/wishful thinking) so flimsy it's a wonder no one at the editing stage challenged them.  To wit:

"The next day, Admiral Pakenham received a signal (691) from Admiralty that he undoubtedly could not believe"   (undoubtedly!)

"His answer was given in typical, direct no-nonsense Pak form". (typical of Pak - he sure hated nonsense)

"Admiral Oliver must have been highly frustrated by the lack of information coming from the other side of the Atlantic" (yes, he must have been highly frustrated.  Why, that's one step above being very frustrated)

"Bromley's statement is strong evidence that Admiral Pakenham was a shrewd, hands-on, take-charge, no-nonsense commander" (wow - he sounds not unlike E.P. Taylor.  And boy - more evidence about how Pak hated nonsense)

"The Admiral must have been devastated when on the bridge of the Calcutta he first laid eyes on his true flagship gutted, tipped, mortally wounded"  (He must have been)

Please - tell me there is more fiction on the way...


  1. You tell them Stan!
    Great stuff.

  2. He makes history come alive, all right.

  3. Indeed, an article.

    Remember when I was writing that biography of John Glassco? At one point I ordered $600 worth of photocopies from Library and Archives Canada. Raleigh on the Rocks reminded me of that. Think of the time I could have saved by following Rohmer's example.