The moment you begin reading “Sparrowhawk on the Horizon”, you know immediately it is an undeniable work of quality. Scholte is an articulate, educated and highly professional author, who evidently spent ten years researching and creating this book; her diligence shows.
Her informative semi-factual account of the birth of the Americas Cup is a homage to the time – a period of innovative ship-building, in the years following the Industrial Revolution – and provides a deep insight into this competitive industry; those with an interest in ship-building will find it fascinating, but it may be a little less entertaining to those with an interest in sports history. I, myself, was a touch deflated, having expected a high-adrenaline, energetic race to form the most part of this book, with moments of grandeur and glory; in fact, the race itself doesn’t take place until the last couple of chapters, and the vast majority of the book is very talky preparation and peripheral.
It is long, and it feels long – I admit, I didn’t find it an easy read; though I do feel that perhaps the race offered some payoff for the time invested. Still, I thought that much of the book was unnecessary; there is a lot of dialogue - over 100,000 words - and a whole storyline, involving a journalist trying to track down missing children in the seedy parts of Soho, which seems encompassing and entirely unnecessary. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really see the relevance of this storyline, nor context, despite its making up what were probably the best parts of the book. I wonder if the author could have perhaps kept Frank’s storyline for a different book at a later date – after all, she does herself admit this part, and the character, were completely fictional; had it been a true account of one of the founders or participants of the original race I could have seen the relevance.
For the most part, “Sparrowhawk...” is Scholte’s chance to revel in some good, old-fashioned colonial rivalry, from both sides of the Atlantic, and all the pomp, wagering and language which goes with that, as well as a fantastic source of historical data. She is clearly a patriot, who speaks highly of the English, displays pride in our history and enjoys our more favourable characteristics as a race, which makes a refreshing and welcome change, and is nice to see. Whilst displaying our engineering triumphs to the world like a trophy, the boat-race becomes a metaphor, which celebrates the benefits of international trade and shared innovation, suggesting, most feasibly, that the concept of global trade has its roots very firmly in the maritime industry. She writes vividly and descriptively, and you really do feel of the time when you are reading it; the era is well defined and, like a fly on the wall, it feels like the conversations are taking place in the same room. Whilst incredibly well-written, there were occasional issues with the punctuation - which perhaps were more conspicuous where it is absent - but this aside, Scholte is a good author, with a marvellous vocabulary and sense of phrasing.
If you are expecting an exhilarating sports adventure, this isn’t the book for you; if you want a wordy slice of history, and a good bout of English flag-waving, you’ll enjoy it.
In : Book Reviews