The Norwegian Peder Jensen is the second mate on a sailing ship, the Nepture, on route from Manilla to Marseille, in 1899. In the prologue it is revealed that six months after this ship set sail, it is still missing without a trace. In the novel we discover what happened to the ship and the crew. As second mate, and third in command on the ship, Jensen also has to be the crew medic, and spends a lot of his time patching up the various crew members that keep fighting viciously.
There is a lot of tension aboard the ship, partially because the crew members are from all over the world, some with very different religious and ideological views. The situation is not improved by the fact that corners have been cut when the crew provisions were purchased, so the crew basically eat slops while the officers dine in luxury. Thirdly, the captain is unpopular, and one of the crew members seem to have sworn revenge on him because he killed said crew member's brother in a mutiny some years back.
Jensen rarely agrees with the decisions his fellow officers make, and try to help the crew as much as he is able. After saving one of the young boys, having been hoisted up the mast by the third mate, the nervous young former street urchin latches on to him with all he's got, deciding that Jensen is now his father, whether the man wants the responsibility or not. As the journey progresses, both literal and figurative storms keep threatening the Neptune and its crew. As a massive typhoon approaches, the readers also discover why the ship was reported missing without a trace.
Yet another of the novels I had to read for my course, this was absolutely the best of the lot I had to read in February. Written in the 1970s by Jens Bjørneboe, it's basically a big ol' metaphor for how the author sees the world in general, and how he'd like the ideal society to be. The ship, with all the disparate crew members from all races and creeds, complete with a rigid class division and a lot of tensions is how he pictures the world. The sharks swimming along side the ship are metaphors for pure greed and thoughtless evil, which is ever present. The mutiny on board as a huge tropical storm is threatening is the revolution that the author clearly feels needs to happen, and the aftermath of the mutiny and the storm is clearly how the author wishes society could become.
I've never been particularly drawn to the ocean, although I find it beautiful and awe inspiring. I find it interesting that there is a whole genre of literature, devoted to sea travel and seafaring life, because even after reading several, I just don't see the fascination. I also notice that all the authors of these kinds of books seem to all be men. I just don't think women writers are all that bothered about exploring man's struggle with internal and external nature while travelling the seven seas. I know I as a female reader am fairly unmoved by it. This book was perfectly ok, but nothing more. As the prologue told me disastrous things were going to happen, I kept waiting for them to do so. Jensen's philosophical ramblings as he pottered about the ship doing everyday second mate things weren't exactly thrilling.