Review: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
Some of you may be familiar with the title of this work because of the film staring Humphrey Bogart and Robert Francis (1954) of the same name. The film was well received by the public and critics alike and received seven Oscar nominations. But I’m here today to talk about the book, and frankly, the book is worth talking about.
While not a showcase for some of the most stunning writing out there, this novel concerns itself with, and does justice to, an incredibly interesting, and often overlooked, segment of relatively recent American history. The novel follows young Willie Kieth, a privileged youth who, to escape draft into the army during World War II, enlists in the Navy. Kieth eventually finds himself on the USS Caine, a rusty and run down old mine sweeper working in the Pacific. Kieth is a wonderfully naive character, almost akin to the protagonist of Melville’s Billy Bud, and the story chronicles his journey toward adulthood, culminating with the mutiny itself, and his pursuit of a young lady, May Wynn. Kieth is not the only interesting character, and the reader’s concerns quickly begin to branch out from the main character to others, like the sympathetic Maryk, or the detestable Captain Queeg. The story’s climax also leaves nothing wanting. If you read the Caine Mutiny, and you are unfamiliar with the film, be prepared to come away surprised.
How has the author performed here? As a creative historian, I’ve seen few such successes. Wouk has taken a historical time and place and given it flesh and a pulse. It teems with life and vigor all the way through. Sir Philip Sidney, bless his soul, would be proud. As an author, a writer, in the purest sense, Wouk is no grand wordsmith. There are few, if no, moments here where beautiful images or philosophies are rained down on the reader from linguistic heights yet undiscovered by mortal men. Instead, you have straightforward writing. To the point. And the characters and the story do the talking. Wouk is no poet, nor is he a fantastic wordsmith, but he tells a wonderful story, and, in my opinion, that’s most important in the end.
I had a hard time putting this one down, and was sad when it was over. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves history, or anyone who loves a good, complex narrative.