Signals of Distress

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Overview

November, 1836. A fierce gale beaches an American steamer off the English coast, injuring an African slave below decks and eventually disgorging 300 head of cattle and an innful of rowdy American sailors into a hardscrabble fishing village. The same storm drives into port a ship from London, bearing one Aymer Smith, the foolish well-intentioned prig who will deprive the town of its livelihood, free the American slave, and set into motion a whole series of unforeseeable, tragicomic events. Chosen by Publisher's ...

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New York, NY 1997 Soft Cover First Edition, First Pinting Collectible-New in None as Issued jacket First Edition, First Printing BRAND NEW & Collectible. A fierce storm beaches ... an American steamer, with a cargo of some 300 head of cattle off the English coast; another ship from London seeks shelter in the port. Rowdy American sailors, an injured African slave, and well-meaning Aymer Smith bent on freeing the American slave overwhelm a tiny fishing village. Fine copy. Read more Show Less

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Signals of Distress

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Overview

November, 1836. A fierce gale beaches an American steamer off the English coast, injuring an African slave below decks and eventually disgorging 300 head of cattle and an innful of rowdy American sailors into a hardscrabble fishing village. The same storm drives into port a ship from London, bearing one Aymer Smith, the foolish well-intentioned prig who will deprive the town of its livelihood, free the American slave, and set into motion a whole series of unforeseeable, tragicomic events. Chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of the best books of 1995, Signals of Distress, Jim Crace's fourth novel, once again displays the author's gift for inventing richly strange and believable worlds that uncannily foretell our own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A diversity of imaginative settings distinguishes the work of this brilliant British writer, who has portrayed various historical periods in such outstanding novels as The Gift of Stones and Arcadia. The background of this engrossing narrative is a hardscrabble fishing village on the English coast in the 1830s; with his usual dexterity, Crace has evoked the time, place and characters with an astute and ironic eye. When the Belle of Wilmington founders off the shore of Wherrytown, events ensue that embrace both high comedy and foreshadowed tragedy. The steamer's American captain and a crew that includes the African slave Otto take lodging in the village, where another stranger has arrived: priggish, verbose, effete, obtuse Aymer Smith has come to bring the bad news that his family's soap manufacturing company will no longer need the soda ash that country people salvage from kelp. A foolish man despite his moral principles and good intentions, Aymer frees Otto in the name of emancipation, but without consideration of the man's future in the frostbitten countryside. Aymer's moral indignation is no match for the machinations of the local agent, cunning Walter Howells, who outsmarts him at every turn and puts a plot in motion to sully Aymer's name and maybe break his skull. Meanwhile, Aymer navely pursues love among the townspeople and the scattered settlers in the surrounding rural area, blundering in every way. Crace masterfully deploys his poetic descriptive powers: on a brine-bloated drowned body, Aymer spying on a woman on a chamber pot, a midnight fishing crew awash in a ``gasping multitude'' of pilchards, a clutch of hopeful emigrants boarding ship for Canada. Though small in scale, the narrative offers a glimpse of the social fabric of the mid-19th century, with its mixture of ingrained customs and superstitions and the new scientific theories (``the tussling spirits of the age'') in the air. Filtered through character motivations that include farcical misunderstandings, poignant self-delusions, wily chicanery, false hopes and true love, this novel about people dislocated from their milieu fixes a mesmerizing grip on the reader's imagination. (Sept.)
Library Journal
As Crace's fine new novel opens, two ships arrive at the isolated English coastal community of Wherrytown: the Belle of Wilmington, an American vessel that has run aground in a storm, and the Ha'proth of Tar, a steampacket that carries Aymer Smith from the safety of London to convey bad news to the town's citizens. His family's firm no longer needs the kelp ash it has been buying from the town to make soap, and the priggish Smith feels duty-bound to inform the citizens in person. He also feels duty-bound to assist in the escape of the Belle's cook, a black slave, and to offer to marry the nubile Miggy Bowe. But Miggy has fallen for one of the American sailors and plans to leave with him when the Belle is patched up. Everyone works at cross-purposes in this subtly disturbing work, and few good intentions go unpunished. Crace has once again succeeded at creating a community far removed from our everyday world (see, for instance, the Stone Age village of The Gift of Stones, LJ 4/1/89) and making it real, vivid, and indelible. The result is a quiet, thoughtful work that pulls the reader in powerfully. Highly recommended.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880014861
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Crace is the author of Continent, The Gift of Stones, and Arcadia. He has won the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the David Higham Prize, and the Guardian Fiction Award. He lives in Birmingham, England.

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