Jones's haunting, gorgeous debut chronicles the travels and travails of Brendan Kane, a young Union Army deserter who joins the crew of the Arctic-bound Narthex. The ship is owned by the enigmatic, pianola-playing Mr. West and directed by Dr. Architeuthis, an eccentric who spends his days performing strange navigational experiments. The rest of the crew is an odd assortment of prisoners, outcasts and cheerful thugs, none of whom know the true purpose of the voyage. Eventually, West and Architeuthis reveal that the ship is bound for a mythical, lush and paradisiacal valley they believe is hidden in the stark expanse of the furthest northern regions. The Narthex makes her way through terrible storms and vast fields of grinding ice before she must be abandoned and the men continue the search on foot and in small boats. Nestled within the story of the quest is the fascinatingly grotesque but lyrical tale of the village where Aziz, the three-handed engine tender, grew up; there, parents committed crimes against their children in the name of opportunity, and "[a]t night the peaks echoed with the screams and cries of children and of mothers and the howling of madmen and the wind." (It is here that mesmerized readers will learn, to their horror, what the term rope eater refers to.) The voyage continues, with the men-enduring all the privations of Shackleton and Scott-reduced to frozen, rotting husks fueled only by courage, will and a brute instinct for self-preservation. Readers may determine that this bleak, harshly beautiful story is almost as exhausting as the Arctic trek itself, but those who persevere will find the journey astonishing. Agent, Peter Steinberg. (Dec. 3) Forecast: Intrepid holiday readers will enjoy curling up by the fire with this finely wrought tale of icy disaster, and crossover sales to adventure literature enthusiasts should give the book an extra boost. Northeast author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This slow-moving novel features Brendan Kane, a weary veteran of the American Civil War who has returned to the North. With no other prospects for his future, Kane signs on as a crewman on a ship leaving on a secret mission. The ship's enigmatic owner, Mr. West, secludes himself on the ship and is apparently the only one who knows the ship's destination. Soon, however, the ship's egomaniacal captain and his bizarre crewan eclectic group that includes a strangely disturbed doctor, a few experienced but volatile sailors, a mysterious three-handed Muslim, and the bewildered Kanebegin to learn something about the tantalizing goals and diabolical challenges that await them. They are looking for a utopian paradise hidden within the paralyzing grip of the Arctic wilderness, Mr. West tells them. The quest, however, will be complicated by ineffable terrors far beyond their imaginations. This derivative tale of good versus evil, thematically reminiscent of but aesthetically dwarfed by Melville's Moby-Dick, never really gains momentum and will appeal only to patient readers willing to endure a darkly lyrical Gothic narrative about a protracted frozen adventure. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Random House, Anchor, 294p., Ages 15 to adult.
An adventure story of Arctic exploration with haunting overtones, this first novel takes place in the 1860s and tells the tale of one Brendan Kane. A young man who deserts the army during the Civil War, Kane heads north through New York City and ends up in New Bedford, where he enlists on the crew of a strange-looking ship, the Narthex. This craft turns out to be an early form of an icebreaker, and its destination is a mysterious, legendary Garden of Eden, a temperate valley somewhere in the middle of the frozen Arctic. Kane's peers on board include a strangely obsessed doctor who is somehow immune to the rigors of the voyage and a reclusive and deformed character named Aziz. Their harrowing voyage is depicted in minute and realistic detail, as Kane and his fellow voyagers plunge further and further into a relentlessly frozen, stormy, violent north, beyond the realm of human endurance. Descending finally into an icy abyss of starvation, cannibalism, and murder, this story echoes the real-life adventures of Shackleton, Mawson, Scott, and others. The author possesses a mature technique and command of style, and this novel, which sits firmly in the tradition of the work of Melville and Conrad, is recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/03.]-Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A 19th-century debut historical indefatigable in its details but curiously underdriven by character. Young Brendan Kane, having witnessed pretty much all the Civil War carnage he can stand, deserts from the northern army, makes his way to New York, and ends up as crewman on a fortune-hunting Arctic expedition with the ship Narthex. Also on board are the voyage's monetary backer, the shadowy West, who plays the pianola in his closed cabin; the by-the-book captain, Griffin; and Dr. Architeuthis, the hyper-knowledgeable and compulsively sample-collecting scientist who waits until a point well into the expedition before revealing its purpose: to find the volcanically warmed paradise-a kind of Arctic Eden-that he's absolutely certain is there. Other shipmen on board aren't so sure-the quick-witted Adney, the experienced and powerful Reinhold, not even Aziz, the sensitive fellow with an extra hand on one of his arms who stays below to man the boiler. Before the real suffering begins, Kane, befriending Aziz, learns that the kindly boy is in flight from a land where children are purposely deformed in order to be sold as freaks (his own father was one of the most grotesque of these, a "rope eater"). Hanging on only this ultrathin and exceedingly dubious symbolic thread, the novel trudges on. Winter brings severe storms, the ship is crippled, then crushed by ice, and must be abandoned (excepting Aziz, who stays to die). Extraordinary hardships and near starvation follow even as Dr. Architeuthis pushes on-and on, and on-toward his Eden. Toes and fingers will fall off, feet be amputated, men will sicken, be injured, go mad (or worse) and one by one die, until, Ishmael-like, only Brendan Kane willremain-yes, to tell the tale. For all that, the reader won't know him any better than the other rent-a-cast characters, nor will his closing blather of pseudo-mystical prose help. Lots of adventure, nothing in it. Agent: Peter Steinberg
"A gripping Arctic adventure. . . . The intensity, the dark poetry, of Jones's writing is stunning." –The Washington Post
"A thrilling story. . . . It is the fine detail of this navigational and spiritual trek, the vicissitudes, confrontations and relationships along the way, that make The Rope Eater a fascinating journey." –The Miami Herald
"Jones describes battlefields as vividly as he does Arctic storms." –The Boston Globe
"A heady mix of Melville's Moby-Dick and Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, The Rope Eater melds breathtaking lyricism with gripping realism, producing a page-turning adventure that navigates that heart of darkness hidden within men's souls." –The Baltimore Sun
"What sets this novel apart from its many adventuring cousins is the stark insight with which debut author Ben Jones charts the emotional journey of his narrator. . . . A fantastic tale. . . . Each detail is expertly selected with an eye to completing a stunning whole. Under this guise of an adventure story, Jones leads his readers on an exploration of the dark corners of men's souls." –The Denver Post
"With the skill of an old master and the gusto of a newcomer to the trade, in The Rope Eater [Jones] conjures up the feel and spirit of a mid-19th century voyage of exploration. . . . Riveting." –San Francisco Chronicle
"Jones delivers an out-of-this world novel." –The Boston Herald
"A ripping-good adventure yarn marked by heroism and sacrifice." –Time Out New York
"[Jones] has talent to burn." –Outside
“With The Rope Eater, Ben Jones has produced not simply a novel but an entire world both fabulous and mythic, a world rendered in prose both stark and lovely as the landscape and characters within. Although set in the not-so-distant past, this account of the dreams and harsh realities of humanity serves as a clearly distinct fable for our times. I cannot recommend The Rope Eater more strongly–Ben Jones enters the ranks as a storyteller of first note.” –Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall