No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, January 15, 2006

#3: The Blooding of Jack Absolute -- C. C. Humphreys

Prequel to Jack Absolute, a novel as near fanfiction as dammit: the protagonist is Sheridan's Captain Absolute from The Rivals, and in Jack Absolute Humphreys cleverly merged fiction and history by having Sheridan fictionalise a real person from dramatic purpose -- hence putting a spoke in Absolute's promising career as a spy. All good fun.

This prequel begins with Jack's early life in Cornwall, the (apparently) bastard offshoot brought up alongside the rightful heir, whom he heartily detests (but to whom he is, of course, superior in every respect). The second part of the book deals with Jack's schooldays, a mad rush of cricket, tardiness, misbehaviour and boyish amours -- not to mention French lessons and poetic endeavours -- that climaxes in an illegal duel at Vauxhall. And the final third of the book recounts Jack's adventures in North America, fighting alongside General Wolfe at the taking of Quebec, and living rough in the Canadian winter.

This should have been more of a page-turner than it was. The research is all sound, and Humphreys handles a large cast with confidence and convincing characterisation. But there's an edge, a sharpness, missing -- not from the deeds themselves but from how they're recounted. Or perhaps it's that Jack lacks the range of emotional response to the events that befall him: oh, he's sad or happy, triumphant or furious, and always honourable and courageous, but he doesn't seem to have a very active inner life.

Having said that, this was an enjoyable read, and there were enough details to bring many of the scenes vividly to life. And Jack's an oddly likeable character, with a sense of humour even while dishing out justice.

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