Synopses & Reviews
In a triumphant fusion of fiction and history, award-winning author Lawrence Thornton re-creates a terrible tragedy at sea and takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage through the human heart. Thornton brilliantly reveals how the repercussions of small and large actions can haunt even the deepest of friendships for generations.
Sailors on the Inward Sea recounts the desperate time when the stately British minesweeper Brigadier, blinded by thick fog in the North Sea, crashes into a German submarine in a horrifying accident. When an altercation between the enemies ensues and the Brigadier's prodigy, a talented young ensign, is fatally shot, the captain, Fox-Bourne, orders a retreat, deliberately leaving dozens of German sailors to die in the frigid waters.
Although Captain Fox-Bourne's murderous judgment is called into question in a military court, when he is found innocent, a passionate witness to the incident decides to take matters into his own hands. This witness -- none other than the great novelist Joseph Conrad, a former sailor himself and a guest-observer on the Brigadier -- writes an account of the conflict in order to give the captain a chance to confess, redeem himself, and purge his conscience. But Conrad has other, secret motivations, as his trusted confidant, Captain Jack Malone, knows only too well.
And it is ultimately Malone, our sage but enigmatic narrator, whose journey we follow as he confronts the timeless challenges of being a friend, confidant, lover, sailor, and muse. As he sweeps across the oceans from England to Africa and finally to the sensuous world of Indonesia, Malone seeks to uncover the true boundaries between friendship and betrayal, loyalty and love, legacy and life.
Malone, Conrad, and Thornton form a brilliant trinity of wisdom, imagination, and adventure. Together they carry a torch that threatens to singe, just as it promises to reveal, the path to which the inward sea ultimately leads.
"Jack Malone, who is revealed as the inspiration for Joseph Conrad's Marlow, narrates this evocative, metafictional novel about honor, the sea and authorial integrity. The story revolves around a naval encounter between a British minesweeper and a German submarine in WWI that Conrad witnessed, and the ambiguities surrounding the British captain's actions (he might have committed a crime that resulted in the deaths of some German sailors). Through Conrad's recounting of the tale to Malone, the door is opened to explorations of both Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. In the process, Malone learns how Conrad has appropriated elements and events from his life and fictionalized them in his famous novels. Thornton (Imagining Argentina, etc.) writes most impressively when it comes to things nautical; indeed, Malone spends a fair amount of time recounting his merchantman journeys around the world, which pulse with vivid detail, as do his keen, nuanced observations about European mercantilism ('you see it everywhere, the large white colonial hand balled into a fist throwing a dark shadow across the land'). Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Conrad's life and fiction will be at a disadvantage, but even novices will be able to appreciate Thornton's eloquent meditation on friendship and storytelling. Agent, Ned Leavitt. (Sept.) Forecast: A blurb from Michael Cunningham will catch the eye of readers who enjoy elegant riffs on literary classics. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[B]rilliantly conceived....[A] vividly detailed high-seas adventure story and a subtly realized psychological probing of the artistic mind and the plundering of other people's lives, which all writers perform..." Booklist
"Non-Conradians may feel rather left out here, so thoroughly steeped in the great author's life and novels is Thornton's ingeniously attempted literary tour de force....Thornton does manage to bring back Conrad..." Kirkus Reviews
"Thornton himself is both a skilled craftsman and a moralist deeply concerned with right and wrong....Like a Conrad novel, Thornton's work is complex, evocative and ultimately unsatisfying....It's a fine piece of writing, but the concept seems too pat." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"As a complicated and resonant examination of the shadow line between artistic inspiration and artistic responsibility, Sailors on the Inward Sea is provocative and entertaining. But as a credible account of a psychologically complex man...it's no Lord Jim." James Hynes, The Washington Post Book World
"Malone's personal crisis is, finally, not profound enough to sustain such exhaustive inquiry. Nonetheless, there are passages of great power and beauty in this ambitious novel. Recommended." Library Journal
"Lawrence Thornton's Sailors on the Inward Sea begins with a fascinating premise the unacknowledged source of Joseph Conrad's greatest novels and takes it to considerable heights. By the novel's end, Thornton has cast a light not only onto Conrad's genius but onto the mystery of inspiration itself." Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and A Home at the End of the World
"Lawrence Thornton, author of the superb Imagining Argentina, is at the top of his form in Sailors on the Inward Sea as he imagines Joseph Conrad. He gives us a riveting yarn about a wartime naval engagement, a deep dive into the mind of a great novelist, and an exploration by Thornton and by Conrad, brought vividly to life of a profound and haunting moral dilemma." Frederick Busch, author of The Night Inspector, Girls, and Closing Arguments
A vivid, inventive tour de force by the award-winning author of Imagining Argentina. History and fiction combine to create a startling premise: that Joseph Conrad borrowed the ideas for his greatest novels.
About the Author
Lawrence Thornton's novels include the critically acclaimed Imagining Argentina. The recipient of many prestigious awards, including the PEN/Hemingway Award and Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Thornton lives in Claremont, California.