Having read Harry thompson's Fitzroy book (expressing milk of an evening gives an ideal opportunity to read) I'm glad I did. Unsurprisingly, it comes over ass written by someone involved in TV. It has "Sunday serial" written all over it, but it is so long. In another era it would have come out in 2 volumes, but instead it was simply massive in scope, covering from the moment the previous captain of the Beagle shot himself, through all the Fuegian Indians business and up to the moment when poor old fitzroy himself did the deed.
He took his starting point as being - seeing Fitroy's life as having been one of a manic depressive. How would his behaviour begin from within himself?
The story is so sad, and so incredible, it reads like a novel anyway (and if it had been presented as fiction, no one would have believed it could be true). Fitzroy suffered the most appalling luck politically, coupled with being a somewhat irascible character in himself, which didn't help his journey through life... but when you think of what the man achieved - not simply being a sea captain, but being an astoundingly good one; commanding the total loyalty of his crew even though they knew he had strange episodes; getting them through several astounding storms around Cape Horn, not to mention his genius in working out weather systems... all of that talent ended up washed away down a bathroom sink. Poor man. Really. He never got to enjoy the extraordinary achievements he made.
There are criticisms I have of Harry's book, but i wouldn't dream of going through them. They're relatively minor. To be frank - it's no great masterpiece but it is a reasonable stab at telling an extraordinary story, and for that, it's a good read, well told. There is one incident which is intriguing. I wish I could ask him about it - he describes in acute, horrific detail, the ordeals in terms of "treatment" that Darwin's beloved daughter went through before she died. So appalling were her last days that tears were coursing down my face reading that section. What the hell in blazes Darwin thought he was doing christ only knows. The writing reminded me of a section in "The Cider House Rules" (oh, an astonishingly good book, which you must read, if you haven't). In it, Irving describes in similarly horrendous detail the injuries sustained by several women either going for backstreet abortions or trying to resolve abortions themselves through dodgy "remedies". It's so shocking, in the middle of a work of fiction, it is clear that Irving is taking time out to simply re-write some accurate real descriptions of cases he'd researched, to make the point. What Harry Thompson does is write what happened to Emily Darwin in clinical, angry and disgusted detail. You can feel his horror and his shock pouring off the page. This lovely little girl, who was probably always going to die, instead of dying within the love of her family home, died... ugh.. I can hardly bear to think about it.
Anyway so it turns out that Fitzroy's buried in South Norwood, which is just down the road, so I'll go and investigate that. Second poignant fact was that Harry went to read Fitzroy's account of the Beagle journey in er.. i don't think it was the Bodleian but somewhere of that ilk. And it turned out that in 150 years odd, not a single other person had read that book. Its pages were still folded and uncut (at the reading edge).
The other book I read straight afterward was that book club favourite, "The Time Traveller's Wife", which is an easy, yet very well written read. I won't go in to it too much - pick it up and have a look if you want, but I will say one thing. She deals very cleverly with the time-travel paradoxes which make te whole thing impossible, simply by not dealing with them. Simply presenting them.
My favourite paradox: who taught Henry how to pickpocket?