Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island

Boy did Wells throw me for a loop with this one.

But before I get into that, let me start at the beginning. Yesterday, I finished Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island while at work and thoroughly enjoyed the book. To the person who said that this book was a rewrite of The Island of Doctor Moreau I doubly say, liar!

But before I get into all of that, let me summarize this book for you. The book starts with the biography of Arnold Blettsworthy and traces him to Oxford. From there he gets in a fight with his friend and business partner Lyulph Graves over the betrayal of his Fiance. After falling into a deep depression over this betrayal, Arnold is told to go have an adventure at sea so he can rediscover himself and mature a little. While at sea, the steamship he's on breaks in the middle of a violent storm. He, an unwelcome passenger, is abandoned by the crew and almost murdered when the captain of the boat locks him into a cabin. After several days of sea, floating far away from land, Blettsworthy is picked up by the savages of Rampole Island. There he is deemed the Sacred Lunatic and is safe from the dreaded Reproof. He is forced to eat the Gift of Friends with the other islanders and is followed around by Chit who is the only man who can interpret the omens that come out of his crazed ramblings. For five years, Blettsworthy lives on the island, trying to avoid the machinations of Ardam - the warrior - and the hairless old men who try to pit him against Chit. War breaks out with another tribe further up the gorge and Blettsworthy rescues a woman who is escaping from Ardam. They make their escape in a canoe from the island and in the next second Blettsworthy is lying in bed in a flat in New York, being spoon fed by a woman named Ramona. Blettsworthy is informed then that, for five years, he has been insanely rambling about Rampole island, unable to see the real world about him. He was rescued by a science boat that came upon him. He's suffered from a strange case of split personality where a lesser personality has been living his life, while his dominant personality has been gallivanting around Rampole Island. Even better, Blettsworthy wakes just in time to go fight in World War I. He marries Ramona, who he did actually save from drowning, and they travel back to England. Blettsworthy voluntarily joins the war and within his first engagement is hit in the legs. One of his legs is amputated and he returns to England to recuperate. There he finds himself in the same ward as his good old friend Lyulph Graves, who he feels no animosity towards anymore. (What are friends over a foolish girl, right?) The last section of the book is dedicated to detailing Blettsworthy's settling down at home and his renewed relationship with Graves.

It took me three days, not consecutively, to finish this book and what a fantastic book it was. Wells did such a good job transitioning the reader, with Blettsworthy, from Rampole Island to New York that the reader experienced the same mental confusion. I actually had to stop reading at that point and look up and make sure of where I was. The language was beautiful and I will be jotting down several quotes from the latter half of the book that I simply loved. The descriptions made the whole world seem very realistic and I kept wanting to stop and look up places. Also there were quite a few twists in there that surprised me, something a book hasn't been able to do in a long time. Point in blank, I don't know who read it out of my ancestors but I hope they loved it as much as I did.

Having finished the book, I feel that I am right in believing that this was partially a response to World War I. The underlying question asked in the book is, What is the purpose of Civilization? Are the Civilized truly civilized or are they cannibalistic savages? Now, perhaps like IoDM, there is another underlying question about morality throughout this book as well. But even more prevalent is the concept of Identity. Throughout the book, Blettsworthy reminds himself that he is a Blettsworthy, specifically that he is Arnold Blettsworthy. During his time on Rampole Island, Blettsworthy is constantly struggling against the elders' desire for him to marry into the tribe - and thus become an islander and no longer Blettsworthy. Even his very parentage leads him to question his identity - is he like his Portuguese mix mother or like his English father? Identity plays a huge role in this novel.

After reading this book, I feel I have a slightly firmer grasp on the fall out of World War I. I wonder, when my Great Grandparents were born in the 1920s, did their parents believe that WWI had been the war to end all wars like Graves? Or did they feel, like Blettsworthy, that the world was Rampole Island? Unfortunately, I'll have no way of knowing.

I highly suggest that anyone, who can get their hands on it, should pick this book up and read it. The next book in my list will be the Decameron of Boccaccio, a medieval text written in the 1300s. My ancestors sure had some varied tastes.