Now, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I had already heard about the ship known as ‘The Wager’ before hearing about the film being made or the book by David Grann. However, I was not clear on many of the details. It was like one of those useless pieces of trivia you have stored in your skull that only comes out if someone asks a very specific question about it. To date: nobody has. Apart from this, I came across this book in my Amazon Recommendations. Having read ‘The Killers of the Flower Moon’ when the book came out and movie was first rumoured, I thought I would give this one the same shot. Let’s take a look at what makes this book a really good read and some things that kind of make it a bit boring for a reader who wishes to learn whilst being entertained.
The book is obviously about the ship called ‘The Wager’ and its doomed voyage. But throughout the text we also get to learn about the people aboard it, for example we get the story of Lord Byron’s grandfather, John Byron, who was on the vessel. We also get the story about how the men were recruited and the captain’s grief that they were not actually experienced sailors. Even the marines that were recruited on to the ship weren’t experienced, so much so that David Grann actually comments that they didn’t even know how to fire a weapon. We get the ins and outs of the ship and all the hierarchies involved and the way in which a sickness, plague or pandemic of some kind aboard the vessel began to wipe out its members.
Now, this is all well and good to begin with but if you’re looking for something more along the lines of a “Mutiny on the Bounty” story then I suggest you read the John Boyne book of the same name as here, David Grann can get a little bit heavy on the information whilst not actually offering any real good teeth-clenching story. There is no real tension regardless of how much sickness and death there is and the things that happened on the real ship ‘The Wager’ have not even been hinted at. I do not know what to tell you; on one hand it is a very informative text which gives light to a very particular time in history when people were left to fend for themselves, most of whom had never done that before (with the most obvious risk of death), and on the other hand it can seem a bit dry and boring in places.
Even when we get to the parts concerning the main story, I regret to say that this is not actually the best part of the book at all. In fact, the best part of this book for me came about when we were being told of the things that the sailors packed in their suitcases near the beginning of the text. We get to see things like suitcases being made into tables for playing cards or drinking, glasses strewn everywhere, sailors bringing dirty or ripped clothes, uniforms being issues regardless of station and even, if I remember correctly, a caged parrot aboard. These things give something that the reader can be interested in because it makes the people on the ship far more human and therefore, the disaster far more extreme.
Many of the reviews stated that it showed the true extent of European Imperialism but honestly, I think that the descriptions of the ship made it seem like some of the members were more frightening than the King of England at the time. There were definitely aspects of European Imperialism such as the fact that a free Black man was invited aboard with the only catch being that if they were captured, he might be offered as sale into slavery. This makes it seems a lot more imperialist than we first thought as readers.
When we look at the book as a whole, it is an informative text with mostly entertaining aspects, though it does have its moments for being a bit of a drag and a bit of an information-dump. However, I still find it a good book with some really great storytelling qualities.