Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd

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Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A 19th century sea faring adventure with plenty of dash as Robin Lloyd fictionally reconstructs a very real ancestor. Robin Lloyd popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 342 Date: December 2013
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN: 978-1574093209

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Elisha Ely Morgan leaves his native Connecticut to go to sea, partially but not entirely to escape his father's Victorian cruelty. There's a second reason: the sea has been blamed for the loss of two of his brothers, the exact circumstances of his elder brother's disappearance never having been clear. But Ely has heard a rumour; a rumour that will take him as far away as London and obsess him for decades. His brother Abraham may not be dead.

Former TV correspondent and producer Robin Lloyd didn’t set out to write a novel. In common with many inspired by tales of the past, his main interest was genealogical research. The subject, his great (x3) grandfather, began to grow on him, tantalising him with the fact that the 16 year old runaway became eminent enough to count Charles Dickens among his friendships. (In fact Dickens wrote a short story based on Morgan's life.) The novel just grew from there and, although Robin admits it's mostly fictionalised, he researched to get the feel and minutiae of the era correct.

There is indeed a feel of authenticity from the beginning as the child Ely and his brother hide while the English burn the local towns in 1812. This continues into the detail of shipboard life, making the novel attractive to the fans of writers like Douglas Reeman while not boring those of us who are happy for the ships' rigging to remain anonymous.

Indeed as we go from section to section in the novel, watching young Ely grow and rise through the 19th century merchant naval ranks we notice the story is practically all set on board. There are some land-based set pieces but we're quickly whisked back to sea (although sometimes we'd rather linger longer) without any doubt about where Ely is happiest. Having said that, 'happy' may be an odd word to apply to the brutal life of a contemporary sailor.

Everything that could happen to our Victorian forebears at sea happens to Ely and his crew at some stage. Robin lays it all before us as we read in grim fascination. We learn about the speed and commercial advantages of the packet ships that took mail and passengers between the US and England. We're faced with the pain, hardship and illness involved with the job spec of those in the crew. In fact we balk at the idea that some sailors actually paid for their working passage in order to be maltreated and face the hazards that not even the commanding officers could predict.

Robin had a clever idea to divide the book into sections: as each begins we look forward to seeing how much older Ely is, what's changed in the intervening years and how much further he's progressed with his obsession to find his brother. Indeed the more it progresses the more of an obsession it becomes.

In his preface Robin modestly hopes that he's acquired some of Ely's story telling abilities. By the time we've reached the end of the novel even the most grudging reader would have to admit that, yes, there does seem to be something in the genes. Personally I hope that there's more where this came from.

I'd like to thank Rowman & Littlefield for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: Other writers have turned their family history into novels just as successfully. For a great example, we heartily recommend The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

Bookinterviews.jpg Robin Lloyd was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

Buy Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain's Tale, a Novel by Robin Lloyd at Amazon.com.


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