My favourite type of book. Whilst my face is pressed to the pages, soaking up the story, the top of my head is jigsawed open and the available space crammed with nonfiction details. In this case, Horatio Nelson and Eighteenth Century sea battles (sweaty, limb-severing warfare is starkly told).
Charles Cleasby is obsessed with Nelson. He constantly seeks personal validation through insignificant or fabricated parallels with the great man’s life. Skilfully, only a couple of dotted about scenes are needed to convey how this mental vice has tightened. The tension increases as Charles mentally totters, helplessly rocking back and forth between isolation and delusion or friendship and potential comfort. I love the bits with Charles’ more successful interactions, with Miss Lily and her son. It’s what it really feels like for affection to germinate. It holds such hope.
You are left pondering our individual visions/versions of history. It refracts through our lenses and we see specific, not entirely accurate, panorama. Also about how time sensitive values/virtues can be. At one time a detached stoicism, when surrounded by hundreds of your butchered crew, was the highest dignity. Nowadays we want a little more empathy from our leaders. Self possession or callousness? Heroism or egotism?