RogerBW's Blog

Never Go to Sea, John Winton 27 March 2014

Fourth of Winton's novels and in the loosely-connected series. The Artful Bodger (Commander R. B. Badger, RN) takes over public relations for the Royal Navy, and gets involved in running a horse in the Derby.

Rather like HMS Zubian, this is really two different books, and they don't quite fit together. One is Winton's usual comedy of Navy life, this time looking at the bureaucratic angle; the other is a sort of proto-Dick-Francis introduction to the world of horse-racing, as the Bodger is brought up to speed. Only at the end, when thanks to some leaked information much of the Navy takes an interest in the Bodger's horse, do the two strands approach each other, and even then they mesh uneasily.

The Navy side of the book, while worryingly optimistic about the morals and competence of the press, is quite fun. The Bodger isn't as exposed to the foibles of his fellow officers and men as in previous books, which is a shame; the cast of civil servants who replace them have a nasty habit of blending into each other, which I suppose to some extent is the point of the exercise, but means that the Bodger ends up carrying much of this half on his own. The brightest spot is the school visit.

The other side is Everyman's Guide to Horses: in the guise of lectures to the Bodger by his mate who's retired from the Navy and become a trainer, we are told all sorts of things about the business of racing. This book came out in 1963, when Dick Francis had only written two novels; it assumes a fascination with the whole affair that never quite caught me. Yes, it's fun to see the Bodger out of his depth and using his naval patterns of thought to make sense of the business, but somehow the connection between this and the Navy is a bit too tenuous for my taste. It could have been put into practically any humorous book. The mystery of why the horse performs so erratically is an interesting one, but a very broad clue ensures that by the end of the book very few readers will be surprised; this in turn makes the characters look foolish for not having spotted it before.

Winton has become prone to lists, which doesn't help matters. Do I really need ten lines of fictional racehorses that make up the pedigree of the important one? Or of imaginary newspaper tipsters? Or the various sub-courses on which a race can be run at Newmarket? None of these things is bad in itself, but at their length and frequency they feel like padding.

It's not a bad book, and I did enjoy it, but the first three (We Joined the Navy; We Saw the Sea; Down the Hatch) are a lot better. Definitely not a good place to start.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Series: Artful Bodger | Next in series: Good Enough for Nelson

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1