{Review} The Celtic Ring – Björn Larsson

19 Jul

One of the main reasons I proof read on is so that I can pick up inklings about what it was like to live at the time when the novel was written. It’s exciting to find out about issues and PoVs contemporary to the author or story. But I spend so much time flicking through these older books that I often forget just how different the world was even a few years ago.

The Celtic Ring took me back to 1990 (24 years ago! 24!! The Berlin Wall had come down a few months before that!) with a little bump. My goodness how times have changed!

On a dark night in the Danish harbour of Dragor, Ulf is handed a log-book by a lone sailor who then disappears. The bizarre events recorded in the log lead Ulf and his friend Torben to make a dangerous winter crossing of the North Sea to Scotland in the 31-foot yacht Rustica. As they are passing through the Caledonian Canal, a lock-gate bursts open and nearly puts an end to their boat and their lives. Is this an unlucky accident, or attempted murder? Is the black fishing boat, F154, following them, or is it a coincidence too? The answers they find will draw them into a deadly duel with arms smugglers and followers of a Druidic cult across some of the most dangerous sailing areas of the world.

Even though I’ve never lived more than a mile from either a river or the sea, despite being from an island that has a rich nautical history, like most of its inhabitants I am shamefully ignorant about almost all things that can be sailed or rowed or poled. This book has, I fear, given me Sea Fever.

Chapter 2 was, for the most part and for want of a better expression, ‘boat porn’ with vivid descriptions of Ulf’s yacht, Rustica. Never before have lamps been so lovingly described… It was sort of cool though as it made the ship seem homely to start off with, which was a good contrast to the later attempts at claustrophobia.

I know that this is a bad confession, but for me the most exciting part of this thriller was the on-going debate about whether the emergence of the Baltic States was going to be the catalyst for the re-emergence of small historical States as Nation-States, independent of the countries that had absorbed them.

In the book, the maintenance and diffusion of the historic minority languages and cultures of these places was mentioned as being ‘impossible’, after years of campaigns such as ‘Not Welsh’. Nowadays the UK and Eire are investing small but significant amounts of money and effort into re-introducing these languages into their traditional communities through a variety of mediums from compulsory Welsh Language GCSEs through to state-funded television series teaching Scottish Gaelic and a Cornish dictionary. Despite the French government’s continued refusal to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (les salauds !), music festivals such as Yaouank allow Breton culture to be passed on to the next generation, if only through folk music.

The necessity of using violence to gain rights and respect à la ETA and (old-skool) IRA is earnestly discussed. As is the question about whether or not these areas will ever be allowed to gain independence and, if they were, what the chances of their survival would be. What with the Scottish Independence Election coming up, it made the questions and debates in the book a lot more relevant and exciting than I expected them to be.

Oh! And the discussions about the creation of a pan-Hiberian political and trading union for Wales, Eire, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Galicia were rather different from the ones I’ve come across over the last couple of years.

Sorry, that’s a bit of a digression but this book really got me excited about minority languages and the question of regional/ national independence. Not what the author set out to do, I’m sure, but that’s the sub-plot that got me really excited.

Note on the translation: George Simpson has rendered effortlessly the text into perfect British English that made for a lovely read even if it did feel a little foreign at times. Weirdly, his grammatically correct English felt a little alien to me- but that’s probably because I’m used to reading translations that have been done in American English, which have a different flavour (and different grammar and orthography).

This was a good book that has introduced me to the Mariner’s Library and fiction that’s set on boats. Apparently it reads like a modern version of Erskine Childer’s Riddle of the Sands, so I know what my next ‘sea mystery’ is going to be. Hopefully Riddle will be a little tenser than The Celtic Ring, but it’s set in WWI, so it should be pretty darn politically exciting too.

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Posted by on July 19, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books


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