Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyMcWilliam (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. (Mar.)
Library JournalWhen Logan Urquhart, a wealthy Scots American, advertises for strong, able-bodied men to sail the Ardent Spirits on the last leg of a Pacific journey from the Panama Canal to New Zealand, Alec Dundas, a painter looking to escape a disastrous marriage and repossess his innocence, answers the call. Others who climb aboard include Elspeth, Logan's melancholy second wife; Gabriel, a young Englishwoman working as the cook; and Nick and Sandro, two experienced seamen. British author McWilliams (A Little Stranger, LJ 7/89) depicts life at sea while offering an introspective look into the lives of the individuals on the trip, each of whom assesses his or her life amid this group of strangers. McWilliam's writing is highly descriptive though somewhat stilted, and the casual reader would be well advised to approach her novel with an unabridged dictionary, the better to check out the sometimes annoyingly arcane vocabulary. Not light reading and yet not written strictly for marine enthusiasts, this book is best recommended to ambitious general readers.-Kimberly G. Allen, MCI Corporate Information Resources Ctr., Washington, D.C.
- Bloomsbury UK
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