The Guardian reports that lone British oarsman Andrew Halsey was taken aboard a fishing boat near the Galapagos islands yesterday after a 4,117-mile journey, setting a world record for the smallest distance travelled in the most time at sea in a rowing boat. But the Ocean Rowing Society appears to have disowned Halsey – because he’s epileptic. Halsey’s odyssey was surely the more heroic for this fact, but Kenneth Crutchlow of the ORS is quoted: “It’s a heck of a long distance for an epileptic to row. The question now is why.” Well, presumably for the same reasons anybody would have considered undertaking the challenge. Would the ORS have asked this “question” if Halsey hadn’t had this disability? And was the oarsman really a danger to anybody but himself, at worst?
Meanwhile, in a review of Walking the Shadows by Donald James in the Guardian Review, Mark Lawson writes: “James’s central device… was memorably used in Reginald Hill’s masterful novel On Beulah Height (1998). It’s unlikely that James knew this but, for the reader who does, his story starts at a disadvantage… Already, in the opening chapter, there are three technical problems… The book’s main action happens in 1985 for no compelling fictional reason… With crime fiction increasingly the province of high stylists, James relies too often on basic emotions recounted in simple prose… Much of the dialogue sounds as if has been badly translated from French…” Before I read this review I had never heard of Donald James, although Lawson explains that he is known for at least three books and is a prominent historian of Russia. Now, although I have always had my doubts about criticism of all kinds, and have not been able to make up my own mind about the qualities or otherwise of this novel, this review did make me wonder how the book had been published at all given its apparently comprehensive roster of weaknesses. Reading it both uplifted and depressed me in about equal proportions: if books with such faults are getting published, even if more so on the basis of a back catalogue than on their own merits, it makes the challenge of actually getting published seem a lot less interesting; but by the same token, it makes me less anxious about the drawbacks of my own efforts… all of which is counterproductive.