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

Monday, July 10, 2006

#69: Moonfleet -- John Mead Falkner

Dorset, 1758: 15-year-old John Trenchard, raised by his pious aunt, falls in with smugglers and goes from bad to worse, from Dorset to Carisbrooke (Isle of Wight) and on to the Hague and slavery.

There are shipwrecks, smuggling, cheating Jews (Moonfleet was published in 1898, and is very much a novel of its time), plenty of local colour and period detail, and a full set of adventuresome ingredients, from the ghost of a Civil War colonel to a cryptic message hidden in a tomb. Every detail, from the going-price for a contraband matchlock to the colloquial name for strong spirit, rings true: the sheer noise of a shipwreck on a shingle beach is memorably evoked. The novel is occasionally heavy-handed in its Message: friendship is a priceless treasure and should not be betrayed; love triumphs over all; virtue wins in the end, and repentance means salvation. Elziver, one of the protagonists, is a little too good to be true: and John could do with a bit more guilt. But, overall, a pacy adventure story and a light, entertaining, melodramatic read.

This book (I have a Puffin edition from the early 1970s) is 'recommended for children of 9 and above, especially boys'. It's good sturdy competent prose, full of adventure, slightly sub-Stevenson but a well-plotted read, even if the pacing would be rather slow for today's readers.


  1. But, overall, a pacy adventure story and a light, entertaining, melodramatic read.

    I've certainly found it to be so; it was one of our car books at one point, and we both found it highly enjoyable. There are some wonderful set-pieces in it.

    Have you ever encountered his other works? The Lost Stradivarius is a fairly good ghostly tale, very atmospheric. The Nebuly Coat is more laboured, I think, and turns too often on vague coincidences, but it's a curiosity. I've just been Googling him and it turns out he wrote a history of Oxfordshire as well. I had no idea.

  2. Anonymous6:45 pm

    My first contact with this novel was around 1965. I was attending a Grammar School in London Battersea. My new English teacher introduced us all to new interests in our learning, and consequently, helped most uf us to later get far better O-Level grades (all round) than expected. It was not, perhaps, Moonfleet istself, but the influx of something different in an age of teaching, which was 'secured' by men of 'the Old school'; hats, gowns, methods, beatings (yes!) and dogmas.
    To get on with it! I was enthralled by the book, and even at the grown-up age of 15/16, it never left my memory or imagination. I did for many years, much later, try to purchase it (Foyles, London, etc.) but it had been out of print for many years.
    More than by accident, in a Book Dumping shop in Nottingham, The Shopping MAll, there it was......... Published in 1993 by Wordsworth - Children's Classics, for the 'Bargain Value' of one Pound. Since then, I have always had it around to read, airports, doctors and such sort of 'waits', and invarialbly ending up finishing it as soon a I could. I still enjoy it, and after SO many years.

    PS. I came across your Blog whist searching fot it as an Audio-Books - no luck, though!

    Best reagrds, Nosmo King, Nürnberg, Germany.

    Footnote: I read The Lord Of the Rings, during a three weeks bout of German Measels in 1978, and have been HOOKED ever since. It was a huge brown, hardback from Wimbledon Library. It had full, pull-out,spreadsheets of the Country, the Languages, Scripts, Poems and Writings, as well as the History of the Kingdoms. I should never have returned it. Only many years later, it appeared as a Paperback, and was, for quite a long time, still more or less unheard of. Now, there's Bilbo, Gummi Bear's..... Odd world isn't it? But, then again, it shows the quality of the book; which really speaks for itself.

    Best regards, again!