Monday, 3 February 2014

Gillian Slovo's story of Gordon of Khartoum, An Honourable Man seemed a bit disappointing, in that I didn't actually care enough about the characters. The story of the relief of Khartoum, two days late, is fairly well-known, but the addition of the story of a doctor who joined the relief party, and his wife at home in London added a more human depth, and yet..I still couldn't feel quite sufficient sympathy for them.
The details of the siege of Khartoum are given somewhat sparingly, but with an ever-increasing sense of the impending doom. The more interesting action of the novel is the journey of John, the doctor, inspired by the journalist and editor W H Stead to join the army's expedition to relieve Gordon, and the journey and inner turmoil of John's wife Mary, left at home in London to cope with an increasing dependence on laudanum and the turns and twists she goes through to satisfy her addiction. Of all the characters, Mary's was in many ways the most sympathetic, in that I came to care what happened to her, as she made her choices.  This was a well-written story, with several beautiful descriptions of exciting events, but with characters that failed to evoke sufficient sympathy. This novel had some personal relevance, as the Gordon family had a home in Southampton, and there is a memorial to him in a small city park, Queens Park ( which caused much debate and argument between the family and the town council at the time of its proposed erection) There is a good description of the setting up of the monument here.

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