Monday, 7 June 2010

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (John C Winston Company 1925)

First published in 1886 in the magazine Young Folks, Kidnapped is essentially historical fiction loosely telling the story of James Annesley, the presumptive heir to titles in both England and Scotland who, tricked by a wicked uncle and kidnapped into being an indentured servant who somehow escapes many years later and fights his way back to lay claim to his lost fortune.

Set in Scotland and to the background of the Jacobite Rebellion (the attempt to put a Stuart back on the throne following the Glorious Revolution, that pit clan against clan in Scotland) Stevenson's story follows David (Davie) Balfour who, on his father's death is sent on a mysterious errand to his wicked uncle Ebeneezer who, with an eye on the titles of his brother arranges Davie's kidnapping aboard the Brig, the vessel of the malevolent Captain Hoseason.

Violence breaks out aboard the ship when Alan Breck Stewart is brought aboard and he teams up with Davie against the treacherous crew of the Brig. Thereon there is a shipwreck, a murder (the Appin murder, an actual historical event in which the real Alan Breck Stewart was supposedly complicit in) run ins with the British Red Coats and a return to seek just claims to his property.

I chose this book because I was going to the beach and if Treasure Island was anything to go by, kidnapped should have been a good adventure story for some semi-mindless reading however I found myself somewhat bored by the novel. For adventure stories there seems to be an ideal ratio in which events are drip fed to you at such a rate that you have just enough to get a sense of what's going on but little enough to keep you reading further (people like Grisham do this very well, it doesn't make for good books necessarily but it does help build a tempo which is how people read thousands of them a year and still devour more). Kidnapped doesn't seem to achieve this because nothing enough really happens. Where there is action it is exciting and the chapters around how Davie and Alan Breck meet and take on the crew of the Brig had me glued to the pages. Without the tempo you are left to dwell on the clumsy sentences and the painful dialogue and the somewhat indecipherable Scots dialect used intermittently.

Partly why I also read Kidnapped was because it was referenced in the biography I had just read of Gladstone in which he is said to have been so absorbed by the novel that he finished it in one day and was none to pleased with any interference to that reading. Gladstone's praise isn't without prestigious company as Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and even Margaret Atwood list the book amongst their favourites which makes me feel as if I've missed something.

The story is interesting, the backdrop even more so I just wish a bit more action happened. Sadly I think you need to look to more renown Stevenson books if you want a good beach holiday book.