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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Brian Reviews #1: The Boat by Clara Salaman

Don't worry, the Boat won't eat you. This novel isn't authored by Stephen King, you know.

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0 Stars

I can still vividly remember where I got Clara Salaman's The Boat from in the first place. It was a warehouse sale, and it had been going on for something like 3 days by the time I went in. I expected that I had to sift through a lot of unwanted books to get to the honey-pods, and I found it decently surprising that most of the books were actually good stuff. George R. R. Martin was there, and so was Robert Jordan.

Then I came to Clara Salaman's book. I saw the huge, silver-lined title. The ominous boat in the background. It looked pretty good to me. Fits the title and blurb at the back very well. Straightforward, but compelling. Did I mention the blurb? Yes, it gave me exactly what I wanted: The makings of a thriller, or even... I was thinking of horror. Back then, I figured that I need to read more than Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft. And looking at Clara Salaman's book, I decided that I should take a chance with her. Here's the blurb, by the way:

"It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime...

Johnny and his new bride Clem have arrived in Turkey for a year's honeymoon. Young, blissfully happy but poor, they are surviving on love, luck and a spirit of adventure.

So when a boat appears out of a raging storm, crewed by a bohemian couple who represent everything Johnny and Clem want to be, they do not think twice about stepping on board. But all is not as it seems. And when they finally open their eyes to the truth, the boat is in the middle of the vast open sea..."

Two young adults stuck on a boat with some VERY liberal-minded folks, isolated out at sea? I'm game! Gimme, gimme!

Except it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

My biggest gripe with the book is the painfully slow and unimpressive development and pacing. The thrill/horror isn't even a vague, constant throb, more like half-hearted spikes that wore off quickly, and even then, much of it can be attributed to its shocking subject matter, which I won't spoil for you. Important moments are ruined consistently by long-delayed reveals of the truth surrounding the boat and its occupants. Said important moments that act to move the plot are like calm waves on a sunny day. I'm not swept by them, nor moved in any way.

There isn't even a real sense of danger, and as a result, I don't fear for the characters - In fact, it's very hard to be afraid for the good guy (and girl) when their very survival is very much mandatory for a strand of the plot to function.

All this goes on for something like 75% of the book. That's way too much content dedicated to developing the plot, with much of it being wasted on the slow-burn that didn't exactly cook the meat. Normally, 25% would have done it, +/- 10%. I was nearly done with the book around the middle, but thankfully my reading stamina was better than that.

Then there's the editing. As a writer, I can understand that it's impossible to whack every grammar-mistake-mole in the book. Still, it's something that needs to be said. While the errors in the book isn't plentiful, they're noticeable. The book is saturated with enough errors that it gave me pause, but not enough to turn me off completely. I'm talking about something like one error for every eight to ten pages - Sounds infrequent, but it adds up.

All of this leads up to a crescendo in the story, which, again, is lacklustre. The antagonist is dispatched too easily for all the build-up about how he's an insurmountable killing machine. The eventual fate of the characters, including the protagonist, is hard to believe, especially considering the amount of control they have to just sail into the sunset, happily ever after - protagonists and supporting characters of other thrillers and stories of the horror genre aren't so lucky. Mine certainly wasn't (hehe hyuck-hyuck-hyuck!) In the end, it feels forced and convenient, written for the sake of having a bittersweet ending.

So, we're left with a book that doesn't work well as a thriller or horror, and ends poorly. Why read the book? Well, beyond the cover and the blurb, the other things done right on my book, I feel that the prose isn't a total loss. I think Clara Salaman is better off writing drama or tragedy, contemporary and literary stuff.

The characters are well written, with enough depth to sink The Little Utopia in. This goes even for the very minor characters who exists for a mere few pages. Similarly, Johnny and Clem's backstory is enjoyable, and their tragedies enough to dredge up a tear or two in my eyes. They feel as alive as some of my closer friends. The same goes for the their counterparts too, the so-called Bohemian Couple. They aren't your usual monsters. Just to be clear, they're humans, not actual monsters, by the way. That's about as much as I'll spoil for you.

Conclusion: Clara Salaman's The Boat suffers horribly when it comes to the plot, pacing, even the atmosphere, which isn't strong enough. However, it is redeemed by its characters, their development and backstory - Just far from enough to cover the 3rd degree burns inflicted by its highly-compromising shortcomings.

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