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REVIEW: Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne

REVIEW: Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne

From the writer of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, made into a heart wrenching and immensely successful film, and The House of Special Purpose about the last Russian Royal Family came my first non science fiction read of 2012 – Mutiny on the Bounty, based on the true historical event.

For those who are not aware of the most famous act of piracy to befall a British navy ship, the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was an incident in the late 18th century on the eve of the French Revolution, just a few short decades after the death of the quickly mythologised hero Captain James Cook (a local boy from Marton in present day Middlesbrough, England). A frigate, captained by Lieutenant  William Bligh who had served with Captain Cook on his great voyages of discovery, was tasked with the most urgent mission in the Empire: the collection of a foodstuff known as the breadfruit which grew in great quantities on the remote island of Tahiti. No, the King wasn’t starving, nor did the Queen have pregnancy cravings. There had not been a poor harvest in England, and indeed the sole purpose of the entire venture was designed to make it unnecessary for the British Empire to have to supply the slave colonies in the Caribbean. The breadfruit was a hardy food stuff that the Kings Ministers intended to have planted in the Caribbean, thereby making it cheap to keep their fellow man in chains. A little ironic when some of those who sailed on the Bounty were not their by choice themselves (as is the case with the stories narrator). After reaching Tahiti and completing their harvest, the crew on the Bounty rebel against their captain seize his ship and promptly dump him and his few loyalists at sea in a little launch boat with a token gesture of food. The new pirates had absolutely no intention of swapping the heaven of Tahiti, for the hell of life in England’s Navy. Miraculously Lieutenant Bligh led his little band back to England to a hero’s welcome and what mutineers could be found in the forthcoming years were rounded up and tried in London to great public interest, soon superseded by the French Revolution.

That is the bare bones of the historical events, and relaying them to you here in no way undermines Mr Boyne’s novel which is not in fact about events but people, relationships between men – master thief and child prostitute, upper class officers born to their position and men who have risen on their merit, captain and servant boy, mutineer and loyalist. It retells in fascinating human detail the ego, the lusts, the needs of these men. It illustrates the conflicted nature of a ‘sea man’ like Bligh, having to deal with being stuck on Tahiti whilst the breadfruit is collected and almost literally crawling up the walls of his little hut to get back to sea – men like him, his hero Captain Cook and my ancestor Lord Admiral Collingwood were men who preferred to be at sea to being on land. Land was their sea, sea their land. They could not understand other men’s pangs for home port and land. Boyne paints a picture of gradually simmering tensions amongst the crew and still manages to spring the inevitable mutiny as a surprise, we are so immersed in the thoughts of our narrator – John Jacob Turnstile, captains servant – that his shock becomes our shock.

John Jacob (“Turnip”) Turnstile’s narration sees us travel from the streets of Portsmouth at the very bottom of the social ladder to a myriad of adventures. His constant occupation is a desire to escape. I was initially unhappy with how the author consistently brought the characters thoughts back to his days in Portsmouth ‘entertaining’ well-to-do gentlemen. Its a strange block for me, but I just cannot read about child abuse in any form and I find those people who buy novels solely about it quite bizarre. Yet here, eventually I realised that Boyle wasn’t using it as some cheap narrative gimmick but very appropriately as a foundation stone in the personality of our Turnip. It informs his interactions with everybody – fellow boys and men, authority figures, women. As a result I think the author has successfully managed a blending of social history – exposing the reader to life as it was for many in 19th century England – and riveting human drama.

We are, after all, made of the best and the worst of our experiences.

If you saw The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, or read it, I highly recommend you get Mutiny on the Bounty, which is available on Kindle. I am certainly considering getting more John Boyne novels after the next couple of books I read. He seems to take a scattergun approach to his writing – sampling all sorts of different topics and genres and I look forward to seeing what other stories I can read from him.

If the real events described in the book and this review interest you then I strongly encourage you to do a little searching online for there is a wealth of diaries, logs, and memoirs from crew and officers that survive to this day. You may also want to learn about those mutineers who were never caught by His Majesty’s Navy and the controversial descendant’s at Pitcairn Island.

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Fiction

 

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Ether Books publish KATAKOMBY and more….

If you have enjoyed reading some of the stories on the Cul-De-Sac and would like to read more of my work, several stories are now available to purchase and download from Ether Books iPhone App. Ether are a mobile publishing company specializing in short stories and essays and I am very proud to be included on their distribution system. Mobile phones and short stories have always felt like a perfect match to me, something you can read on the go whilst commuting between work and home or on other long journeys. The Ether Books App allows you to search by author or genre to find new content by established big name authors like Conn Iggulden and Paul McCartney and new writers just bursting into the literary world. Mobile publishing could well be the democratization of the publishing industry. As ever, the customer decides. All stories you download are kept in a little collection just like a traditional ereader so you can build up a library of short stories and pick and choose from them depending on your mood.

Some of the stories featured on Ether Books have also been published on the website here. Exclusive content is marked.

Below the title, genre, price and blurb for the stories is listed. To download the Ether Books App click here.

KATAKOMBY (Noir) *EXCLUSIVE*

Czech Republic, present day. They had targeted him for a while and now they had their leverage… KATAKOMBY is a story of love, industrial espionage and prostitutes set in the underworld of a medieval town. Can he save the woman he loves?

Cost: 59p

FOR DANIELS BENEFIT (Satire)

Based on real council blunders. The ways of local government, and the benefit system in particular have often been described as ‘other’. Find out how this sense becomes literal as Daniel applies for the benefits he is entitled to and gets more than he bargained for.

Cost: 59p

THE GOD PARTICLE (Sci-Fi)

Mankind’s insatiable appetite for resources has already had enormous impact on the Earth. In this short story the dream of unlimited resources is explored with a consideration of possible political and social impacts. And as Mankind reaches out to the stars, how will the universe respond?

Cost: 59p

Photographs submitted to the Facebook ‘Like’ Page..

 

The God Particle was 'What's Hot' on its weekend release...

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Publishing

 

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For Daniels Benefit

Inspired by real council blunders

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Daniel Poole was an amiable sort. He always had a smile for colleague, friend or stranger and radiated a keen sense of camaraderie. He didn’t judge people often, took them as they came. He liked comics and had never really grown out of his childhood obsession with wrestling, though he now kept that dirty pleasure hidden in the closet and away from his professional life. He worked for the council, a green suited ‘parkie’ spending his days come rain, sleet or snow trundling around the Municipal Park in a golf buggy that leaked trash juices from its trailer. On weekends he liked to visit his seventy two year old mother who regularly screamed at the sight of him and accused him of being a thief, a rapist or a door to door salesman. He’d wait patiently for the nurses to get her settled then leave some flowers in a vase by her bed and kiss her forehead goodbye. He still visited her despite the regular abuse because of the days when she recognised him and indulged him in stories from her life or critiques on Eastenders.

How could someone lose track of so much but still follow the soaps?

As nice as Daniel was, he wasn’t particularly outgoing. Therefore opportunities for dating were quite limited. In fact the sum of his experiences with women, up till last October, was holding the hand of his childhood crush whilst they were walking from school on a geography trip to a local park. Maybe that was why he worked in one to this day?

Anyway, as a man once said; fate is inexorable and life has a way of working out for nice blokes. Last October he greeted a new colleague at the Park and took her for lunch as a welcome. Jane was her name, just moved from Yorkshire. Daniel began showing her around the county, they discovered shared passions and humour and somewhere along the line found themselves kissing under a porch light. They’ve barely stopped kissing ever since.

Now Daniel and Jane had decided to rent a flat together. It was all happening so fast for Daniel that he believed it may be all a dream, but the bills that started dropping through the door soon snuffed out that idea. Thing was, on their pay they could get by. Not really enjoy themselves, but survive. And as a lot of Daniels pay was from overtime and so not dependable, he decided he needed a little help. For the first time in his life Daniel Poole decided to ask the government for his share of benefits. Housing Benefit, Council Tax deduction, Working tax credits. At least it wouldn’t hurt to ask if he qualified for any.

First thing to understand about applying for benefits was that one didn’t apply to the council or the government. Sure there was a Southborough Town Council logo on the forms, but Daniels local council subscribed to the very esoteric way of thinking of the 1980’s Conservative Government. That being to farm out the business of being a local council to a, well, local business. Privatising the business of government ensured it was governed by market forces. The best, most efficient service would be provided at the cheapest cost to the tax payer.

Despite the best of intentions and the universality of market forces, stories of the failings of the local council when it comes to the running of public services were fairly widespread. There was said to be something other about the way the council acted. It didn’t appear to function under the same rules of logic and reason as your everyman or woman on the street. Perhaps, someone had argued in a bar, the confusion was deliberate, intended to discourage any dealings with the council and reduce their workload. Ingenious strategy when you think about it. Yet the political side of the council was elected, and the contract of the part-privatised council operations consistently reviewed following elections. Daniel trusted that this meant the complaints were exaggerated. The alien Julianachs, employees of the company Julian & Foster Services that ran the council, were simply an urban myth.

Daniel downloaded the forms from the Council’s website and took some time off from work to go visit Southborough House, the headquarters of the council’s benefits department. Smartly dressed in a £25 suit Daniel appeared a man out of place sat among the drunks, druggies and dregs of society that scratched and sniffed in their seats waiting for their ticket number to be called, like they were waiting at a delicatessen,. He was early and so had drawn the number 3 ticket though it still took a good forty minutes for him to be called to the desk. He approached, unlatching his folder and withdrew his application and evidence of income smiling at the twenty something gum chewing bored receptionist.

“Yes. How can we help?” she asked, already typing into her computer.

“Hello. My name is Daniel Poole, I’ve recently moved into a flat with my partner and found that our incomes a little tight so I was wondering if there was any…”

“Date of birth? Postcode?” she interrupted.

“Uhm, 2nd of April 1976…SB8 1TY I just wanted to see if there was any small help we…”

“Take a seat over on the left. A benefits advisor will call you over by the number on your ticket.” She looked behind him then, a finger pushing a button out of sight to hail the next person in the queue. A numerical board flashing to #9 and a thin, pale looking 17 year old male rising from his seat, pushing a tatty pram towards the desk.

His number was called to Desk A ten minutes later, though he had observed the Benefits Advisor sat alone the whole time, so why there was a delay mystified him. Good job he had taken time off work. When he approached the desk the Benefits Advisor looked up at him with a startled expression.

“Daniel?”

“Lisa, Hi.”

Lisa had been a friend of a friend in school. They had been on the fringe of each other’s social circles. Not exactly on each other’s msn messenger list, but friendly with one another all the same.

“Take a seat Dan, how are you doing?”

He hadn’t been called that for years, everyone called him Daniel now. He sat placing his folder on the desk.

“I’m good, no problems. Yourself?”

“Getting married in July. Remember Andrew Goslin? Year above us?”

Daniel didn’t but he nodded politely anyway.

“Yeah well, to him. What are you here for?”

“I’ve just moved in with my girlfriend and moneys tight so we thought we’d see if there was any help we could get”

“Okay. I’ll have to call a colleague to deal with your claim because I know you from school. One second.”

Daniel nodded and sorted his evidence and application forms idly as Lisa flagged down a colleague and spoke a few words to her. The colleague disappeared into a Staff Only elevator that ascended or descended to who knows where.

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I work for the council like you. I’m a parkie down at the Municipal. Fun, interesting, but only part time”

“And your girlfriend?”

“She was the same but she now works at the University as a senior librarian”

“Oh okay. Well from the sounds of it I’m sure we can find some help for you. You both work for the home team after all!”

Lisa laughed and then stood up as a colleague emerged from the newly returned elevator and approached the desk smartly. She explained the conflict of interest and deferred Daniels case to her. For the next twenty minutes Daniel and the Benefits Officer talked through the application. The Officer studiously recorded details into her computer as they spoke. She was in agreement with Lisa. They should qualify for some kind of benefit but Daniel had not brought all of his girlfriends’ employment details.

“What I will do is, I’ll put this on hold and if you bring the information in tomorrow I’ll process the application. Is that okay Mr Poole?”

She clicked save. Daniel thanked the officer for her help and stood to leave fairly satisfied. For a brief moment as he shook her hand he had the absurd notion that her irises were oddly shaped like that of a nocturnal animal, and her hand felt scaly. He blinked the vision away and left.

When he returned with the required information the Benefits Officer tutted and sighed explaining to him that if this information were correct he and his partner wouldn’t qualify for benefits. A tad disappointed but not exactly surprised, Daniel left the matter at that turning his attention to securing a better full time job instead. A few days later however a shadowy figure appeared through the glass of his front door and pushed something through the letterbox. A TV Licensing bill fell to the ground along with a Mama & Papa’s Pizza takeout leaflet and a letter stamped SOUTHBOROUGH COUNCIL: CONFIDENTIAL. He opened it with a sense of dread, expecting some other unforeseen bill to appear but to his shock found a benefits statement outlining his successful application and a deduction of more than £300 from the Council Tax Bill and award of £52 a week in other benefits. For Daniel and his girlfriend it was like winning the lottery and they celebrated that evening by ordering from the pizza shop and downing a few beers.

The next day they woke up to a hangover and another shadow at the door dropping the daily mail through their letter box. Again, it contained a letter stamped SOUTHBOROUGH COUNCIL: CONFIDENTIAL. In a moment of madness that can only be explained by an illogical assumption that he’d won the benefit rollover or something, Daniel excitedly opened the letter and then almost choked on his cereal. The throat clogging line of the letter read;

“Due to benefit overpayments. A total sum of not more than £508 will be recovered from you within 30 days of this notice.”

He mumbled something, milk and crumbs rolling out of the side of his mouth before he swallowed and took a drink of his juice. He read the letter top to bottom, on both sides again and again. The detailed statement clearly showed he was never due any benefit, and the officer had indeed said he wouldn’t qualify. Yet if that was the case why the utterly cruel letter of yesterday? He couldn’t pay that back. He had never even received the money.

Just to be certain, he took the morning off work (costing himself needed money) and rushed to the bank for a detailed statement which showed nada, zilch, nothing but his meagre wages going in and lots of expenses going out. Certainly nothing that could be pared up to this alleged backdated benefit overpayments. His sweetheart told him over the phone that it was probably a misunderstanding and would be cleared up in five minutes if he went to Southborough House and explained things.

You know where this is going don’t you?

With a palpable sense of dread, confusion and fragile hope Daniel returned to Southborough House, took a ticket and stood amongst the sea of benefit seekers and waited to be called. Number 213 flashed up on the screen. Daniel approached the desk flapping the demand and his bank statement in the air as he spoke.

“I received this letter from you asking me to repay some benefits I wasn’t due but as you can see I never received…”

“Name?” the gum chewing bored brunette responded. In his minds eye the receptionist seemed to morph into a semi-mobile robot/computer station. Her upper body joined to the desk before her and her fingers didn’t so much tap along the keys as commune with them, transferring the data she wished into the central system.

“Dan, Daniel Poole…” he stuttered. “If you’ll just look at my bank statement you’ll see…”

“Date of Birth and postcode?” the automated public service device responded. It seemed to only respond to a pre-specified set of Names, dates and letters. To differ from that script was to elicit a blank, stunningly silent response. He provided the required input and was directed to take a seat from where he was called into a secluded room with a thick Plexiglas panel dividing him from a benefits officer.

“How can I help Mr Poole?”

“Well I received this letter…” he passed the recovery demand through a small slit in the glass, “asking me to repay benefits I haven’t even received. In fact I was told by an officer here that I didn’t qualify for benefits. If you look at my bank statement you’ll see I haven’t received anything in the time period the letter refers to.”

The young man he was talking to read the two documents with some scrutiny then typed something into his computer. A tail flicked idly behind him as he spoke.

“Yes it does seem that you have been asked to repay benefits that you were overpaid. You have thirty days from the notice to do so.”

“But look at the statement; I haven’t been paid a penny…”

The plexiglass was clearly acting as sound proofing as the officer didn’t check the statement in front of him but instead prodded his computer terminal again.

“It says here you applied for benefits and they were backdated four weeks and paid into your bank account,” continued the tail wagging creature. Daniel restrained his frustration and tried to express his predicament in another fashion so that the alien worker could understand him.

“Okay, can you explain to me how I am supposed to repay money that my bank accounts show never entered my account? Am I supposed to click my fingers? Busk on the street? I can’t pay that back because I never received it.” Okay, so he wasn’t completely restrained. The benefits officer raised bushy eyebrows at him, his bulbous nose snorting slightly.

“Please don’t take that tone with me. I am trying to help you sir. The system is showing that you were approved, given and then reassessed for benefits. Now it is your responsibility to pay them back.”

Daniel shook his head and demanded to see a supervisor. Someone he could talk to. He got the impression that this minion of privatised council administration could no more depart from his script than the receptionist. The creature stood, scrabbled at the door and left, replaced a minute later by a middle aged woman. She checked the relevant documents and clucked her tongue.

“A-ha. You were approved sir but then provided additional information which altered your benefit status and made you ineligible. The transfer of backdated benefits had already been sent but we asked for a hold and are waiting for it to be returned.”

“So I don’t owe you anything?” he said with palpable relief. Even as he said it the woman seemed to transform into some kind of humanoid hyena. Laughing at him.

“Oh, no, you still do owe £508.”

“How can I owe you money that you yourself just said never made it to my account?”

“The money was issued to you sir. It is your responsibility until it is returned. I suggest you contact your bank.” The hyena woman rose from her chair and skulked out of the back of the room clucking an insane laughter.

Confused, alarmed and running out of options Daniel hurried over to the bank only to be told that banks don’t hold money, they send it back within 24hrs if they cannot put it in the intended account. He returned to Southborough House for a third visit and took an uncharacteristically aggressive approach demanding that he be given a written letter, signed by a senior officer to say that he did not owe them anything. The strange workers who no longer seemed to function remotely like normal people to Daniel told him to calm down or he would be removed from the building. Eventually two bulky security guards were called, though he had neither threatened or risen from his chair, and clamped vice-like hands on his shoulders hefting him out of the chair and into the air, carried on their shoulders in a most undignified way.

“Put me down! Put me down! I’m not causing trouble, I just want a letter!” He spotted Lisa at her desk as he was carried through the reception area and shouted a plea to her. “Tell them, I’m not one of those people…” he waved a flailing arm at the queue of benefit seekers, ascribing a prejudicial view to the crowd that certainly didn’t endear him.  “I’m a good person, I pay my taxes, I work as often as I can and all I want is one error clearing up! Lisa!” However it was no use, for Lisa did not respond and instead the security guards threw him out of the door and face first into a muddy puddle.

A benefits officer emerged moments later.

“Mr Poole, I’m so glad I found you. It appears the money was returned to the Council a few hours ago. Our checks agent only just processed the document.”

Daniel slowly picked himself, dripping, off the ground.

“I don’t owe anything…?” he asked with resignation.

“Nothing sir. In fact if you wish, now we have your correct details you can come back inside and we can process a new claim for benefit”

Daniel wiped his face of mud watching the traffic drive past unaware of the strange functioning’s within the smart modern building that formed Southborough House. He inclined his head for a moment and laughed once before shaking it.

“No, I think I’m alright thanks.”

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Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Satire

 

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