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A Pacific cruise from Tahiti to New Zealand aboard the Ardent Spirit brings together six people whose characters will only slowly emerge before a climactic storm scene near the end. Alec and Elspeth, both Scottish, as is Candia McWilliam, alternate in narration, each veering between current events and memory to reveal further layers of detail beneath the surface. A central image of a stuffed tortoise cut in half lengthwise by the taxidermist to serve as an instructional aid evokes the author's purpose. For her idiosyncratic and fresh use of language here, McWilliam won the 1994 Guardian Fiction Prize. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
McWilliam (A Case of Knives) is one of the more admired younger British writers, and it's easy to see why. Her writing is brilliant in the extreme, full of cunning metaphors, sharp insights, gorgeous turns of phrase; it is also a bit excessive, to the point where the reader longs for some uninflected narrative?which fortunately turns up often enough to sustain interest. Her novel is an artificial construct, all the same: a picture of six people on a small boat during a Pacific voyage, enjoying island landfalls (some fine travel writing here), three of them remembering in vivid detail their native Scotland (superb evocations of Edinburgh, the author's native city). What's lacking in her tale of the interrelationships among a group of oddly assorted characters?powerful Logan Urquhart, the boat's moody skipper; his shadowy wife, Elspeth; the exile artist Alec Dundas; the young English girl, Gabriel; and the deck hands, Nick and Sandro? is any sense of inevitability or real momentum. McWilliam writes with considerable imagination, but the characters seem to exist in a vacuum; and the inevitable storm at sea that forms the book's climax, magnificently evoked though it is, does not create the significant changes the author seems to be trying for. Any connoisseur of fine writing will find much to rejoice in here, but the book adds up to no more than a collection of bonbons.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.