Wednesday, June 06, 2012

43. Ennal's Point by Alun Richards

I can't even remember where I found this book, but I must once again pat myself on the back for taking a chance on a totally unknown book and it turning out to be quite good.  It may be true that you can't judge a book by its cover, but I, at least some times, have demonstrated that one can judge a book by its cover, its back cover blurb, its pedigree, its first sentence and if necessary a few scraps of text in the middle.  Enough crowing, let's get down to the review

Ennal's point is the story of a small, poor seafaring town on the British coast and more specifically on the life and work of the volunteer lifeboat crew, which plays an important social and status role in the society there.  The book begins with a hearing on an accident.  The narrator is the local headmaster and the Lifeboat Association Secretary, responsible for administration and the history but not actually going out into the lifeboat.  He paints himself as a wimpy, nervous man, uncomfortable in everything but in love with the lore of the sea and deeply proud of the tradition of his town.  Without revealing the actual accident in question, he goes back in time to set the background, reveal to us the characters involved and slowly weave a complex story of family relations, human weakness and great courage in the face of an angry sea. 

At first, I found it a bit meandering and wanted him to get on with the story.  But I slowly got caught up in the rich history of the region and the complex (and quite nasty at times) relations between the towns people.  The idea that Richards tries (and succeeds majestically) to bring across is that these are poor, humble and sometimes mean folk but they have dedicated their lives and given their all to the duty of going out in a lifeboat to try and rescue people from crashed ships. It's heady, British, moving stuff and always gets me, especially when it is skillfully done.  My god would I ever not want to spend a night in one of these rescue boats, no matter how sturdily built, doing a painstaking search in 15-foot waves and gale force winds.  Barfing your guts out is only the beginning of the misery.  He describes so well the slow demoralization that evolves into hatred and anger and blaming towards everyone involved when men begin to lose hope.  And yet they also (at least most of them) continue to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward on the job that is their duty to perform.

The backstory, involving the big lifeboat family of the town, an older hotel proprietor marrying a far too young and loose girl and all the problems that creates, leads to the ultimate accident.  At times, it felt a bit soap opera ish, though you want to find out what happens.  It's worth it, though, when the book gets to the lifeboat action, which I really couldn't stop reading.  I would think this book would make for great summer reading at the beach.

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