A modern fable; an allegorical tale; a journey — an odyssey — that will bring to mind shades of other popular coming-of-age novels, such as The Catcher in the Rye, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Odyssey, and The Book Thief. Benditt’s world is both an imaginary one, and one that is all too real and recognizable to the reader. It is my town. It is your town. It is the world we live in.
With the opening sentence (“The man of Small Island is dreaming of a wolf.”) we can predict that we are about to begin a dangerous journey. Our protagonist, who is generally referred to only as The Boatmaker, is a ‘man of Small Island’ — a place with no other name, but clearly an allegory for the safe haven of home … a place where a man is safe from the ravages of the larger world. But the fact that he is a boat-maker already suggests his eagerness and desire to explore the world beyond his Small Island.
What the Boatmaker discovers during his odyssey outside of Small Island is women, religion, politics, greed, and racial hatred. Life on Small Island seems so much better, so much safer, but the Boatmaker also learns that it is impossible to un-learn what he has experienced. That you can never truly go back.
Not knowing what to expect, it took me a bit to get in to the book. The lack of proper names, but instead the use of Boatmaker as pronoun, threw me off for a while. As I got a sense of the nature of the book, I went back to start it again, reading it as an allegorical tale, with each unique moment being a learning step along his way.
With so many new books being published all the time, it is rare for me to re-read a book, but this one is definitely going on my re-read list! I think that there’s more here than I caught the first time around.
Looking for a good book? Digging in to The Boatmaker by John Benditt is worthwhile, and the story will stick with you long after you put the book down.
I received this book in electronic form from the publisher, through Edelweiss, for an honest review.
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author: John Benditt
publisher: Tin House Books
paperback, 400 pages