Thursday, 13 November 2014

Unsuitable authors beginning with M; Alistair Maclean's HMS Ulysses

Continuing cataloguing my books - probably in a totally unprofessional way which would have librarians all over the world shaking their heads sadly. My alphabetical list of fiction authors now runs from A-Y - Ben Aaronovitch to Frank Yerby; no authors beginning with Z. No Q or X for that matter. What am I missing? Who am I missing?

Anyway I've now realised that I have a lot of novels - 56 - by authors beginning with M - Rose Macaulay to Julie Myerson. I especially like Julie Myerson's style of writing and her strange and sometimes cruel stories, but I've got more novels by Alastair Maclean than by her! This dates back to my early teens, before I became more interested in romantic historical fiction - hence the Frank Yerby. I'd been a tomboy as a kid and Maclean's simply plotted espionage and adventure stories appealed to me, a sort of grown up continuation of The Famous Five.

However the first Alistair Maclean I ever read was not an adventure story. It was his very first novel, HMS Ulysses, and I became obsessed with this rather grim and compelling story of the Arctic Convoys in WWII.  Maclean had served as a seaman on these convoys during the war and his descriptions of the hardships and perils captured my empathy and my imagination. I read it time and again. The strange thing about this book is, I had my paperback copy of HMS Ulysses with me at school and it was confiscated.

I was told it was unsuitable and I shouldn't be reading such things. I protested that there was a copy in the school library, which was true, but I was ignored. The book was returned to me at the end of term, without comment. For years I was bemused by the whole episode, until it recently occurred to me that this particular member of staff might have been confused and thought I was reading James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. If she'd really known anything about either book she would have known that the cover illustration, of shipwrecked men huddled in a lifeboat, was not likely to be set in licentious Dublin. School matrons obviously didn't need to be educated.

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