The Voyage of the Dolphin by Kevin Smith

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The Voyage of the Dolphin by Kevin Smith

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A kind of Three Men in a Boat, in a ship, in the Arctic with an iguana. Full of Edwardian indomitability, pioneering spirit and Kevin Smith's wit – love it!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Sandstone Press
ISBN: 978-1910124826

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Dublin 1916: Among the unrest and anti-British feeling worsened by the threat of conscription into a war seen as nothing to do with the Irish, Trinity College faculty has other distractions. They'd like a trophy; the skeleton of an Irish 'giant' to be precise. The only glitch is that the main trophy contender, Bernard MacNeill's skeleton, is somewhere difficult to access and all seasoned explorers are otherwise engaged. There may be hope though. They turn to Fitzmaurice, a student not good enough for anything else. Fitzmaurice agrees, picking his friends Crozier and Rafferty to go with him. So… Gentlemen, lace up your strongest boots and pack your warmest underwear – we're all off to the bloody Arctic! Whether battle cry or epitaph, three men and a dog… and an iguana… are going anyway.

Northern Irish writer Kevin Smith wowed us with Jammy Dodger, a post-university coming of age novel set in the 1980s. Now he's all set to do it again with a tale of exploration and the endearing bravado borne of Edwardian indomitability and well-meaning, utter ignorance.

The novel is set in 1916, a significant year for Ireland as it heralded the Easter Uprising, a turning point in the nation's struggle against the British. Although this isn't the main thread of the story, Kevin ensures we don't forget the unrest and civil war raging alongside the world war. While we're laughing out loud, Kevin provides a master stroke in literary about turns. That's all I'm going to say about that as I don't want to spoil it but… wow. Meanwhile back at the laughter…

The idea behind the story is that a university would temporarily (if all goes well) rid themselves of an inept embarrassment (Fitzmaurice) and two almost as academically side-lineable companions in an effort to gain an edge over its learned competition. McNeill, the deceased trophy, died on a previous expedition to the Arctic and is buried there… somewhere…

The feel of the whole piece is Jerome K Jerome meets PG Wodehouse meets mischievous Kevin Smith. Mischievous? Oh yes! He's a great one for the subtle dig and satirical gem. My particular favourite is the bishop castigating the good people of Scandinavia for believing in invisible little people – an irrational belief in something they can't see. (One doesn't have to be a clergy wife with a bishop or two in mind to laugh at that one, but it certainly helps!)

There's also the great running gag of Fitzmaurice trying to erect his camera and take a decent picture of various momentous events. In a time before the point-and-shoot, the idea of taking the camera out of the packaging and trying it out before the expedition is a notion that had eluded Fitzmaurice.

In between the guffaws and smirks there are moments of apparently accidental philosophy. However one gets the impression that nothing, from the naiveté of our heroes to the pessimistic Scottishness of the ship's captain, (not to mention what lurks in the lifeboat) is an accident.

There's an episode towards the end that takes us into the area of near-fantasy which may be either pure genius or a get out of gaol card. (I'm still trying to work out which.) Having said that, whichever side you come down on, it doesn't spoil the overall effect or the memories that linger after that last page.

This is an end-of-winter cheerer of a novel that reminds us of the derring-do of our forebears with a smile while almost subliminally points us towards the centennial this Easter. Kevin once again demonstrates his gift of contrasting feelings and emotions and, once again, it makes an excellent novel.

(A big thank you to the folk at Sandstone Press for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you haven't yet, please do read Jammy Dodger.

Booklists.jpg The Voyage of the Dolphin by Kevin Smith is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2016.

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