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December 14th, 2008

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10:50 am - HMS Ulysses
I'm listening to HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean, read by Denis Quilley. Alas I could only get an abridged version (I don't think a full length audio has been made). I have read it before - long ago, I think when I was a student - but it's pleasant to hear it read.

Spoilers, but this was published long before I was born.

Ulysses is a British battleship escorting a convoy bringing tanks to Murmansk, for Stalin. The route is through the Arctic ocean north of Russia. It's a type of story familiar from black and white war films, but it is much bleaker. A film with such a nihilistic view of the British navy and the futility of heroism would never have been made in the fifties, when this was published.

It reminds me of Alien. The ship and the crew basically fall to pieces, destroyed not by an alien but by annihilating cold, mental collapse, and tuberculosis. The destruction is unremitting, and the only redemption is the futile courage of individual crew members as they are picked off, and eventually the ship itself is destroyed.

It's never been made into a film, and I think Ridley Scott should consider it. He might get some of his form back.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 11:54 am (UTC)
That was his first novel, written for an editor who'd seen his short stories and asked him to do a novel. He did it in a ridiculously short time, based heavily on his own navy experiences.

He wasn't a bad writer, at first; he became a hack because his second wife spent money faster than he could make it. I suppose it serves him right for divorcing the first and marrying some glamorous airhead when he got rich and famous, but he was a sad bloke in later life.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
I think it's a daring book. I like some of his other stuff - Bear Island for instance, I seem to remember.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
By far the best thing he ever wrote. Shame it's never been filmed although i can how it goes against the prevailing mythos of the British at War.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
I think it falls between two stools, because it's nihilistic, but it also portrays an ideal of modest self-control which goes against later film conventions. It's got old fashioned stiff upper lip types, embedded in a modern story.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
HMS ''Ulysses'' was a ''Dido'' class light cruiser. There's a diagram of the ship inside the cover. The book is semi-biographical, like most first novels; MacLean served in the Royal Navy on a ship of the class. The story is loosely based on the fate of convoy PQ-17, which was annihilated by German aircraft and U-Boats, and the mere threat of the battleship ''Tirpitz''.

Many people believe that it is MacLean's best book. As you say, it has never been filmed, and you're probably right about why, although it was a best seller, and the dust jacket of my copy promised an upcoming film.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
I don't think the cheap paperback I read when I was younger had a diagram, and this time of course I'm listening to a download, so I'm finding it difficult to envisage the size and layout of the ship. 'Dido class cruiser' is helpful, thanks, I can investigate that.

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