Swimming for their lives from the senseless wreck of the American sealing ship Dove, four men escape-Thomas, a headstrong young sailor; Harrison, the affable, inventive ship's carpenter; Mr. Morgen, the Dove's pedestrian first mate; and the aging Captain Tobit, bungling, short-sighted, and fanatical. Bruised and naked, they find themselves cast away on an uncharted, uninhabited Pacific island where the bounty and beauty of all that surrounds them are at odds with the old structures of shipboard life. Within the new order dictated by nature and the struggle to secure the simplest food, clothing, and shelter, the old divisions between officers and men, especially between Thomas and Tobit, nevertheless grow deeper. Which voice prevails in the end-nature or human habit-is the essence of this book's gripping climax.
Four seamen -- the captain, first mate, an ordinary seaman and the ship's carpenter -- off a sealing vessel are shipwrecked on an island. The captain proves to be somewhat less than sane, and events deteriorate from there. Details of the castaways' survival -- diet, clothing, canoe-building, and so on -- as well as description of the island setting are given at length.
I found the writing style here a little mundane and sometimes wordier than it had to be. POV is strange, semi-omniscient with occasional forays into limited, including the book's conclusion.
Characters are two-dimensional. Thomas, whose POV we are most often in, is a somewhat unpleasant, selfish, crude individual. His hatred of the undeniably overbearing officers is a major theme, but it never really gets developed. It's all sort of childish resentment of being told what to do; there's no exploration of social class or any other deeper element. It's hard to care for Thomas even when he's in trouble, because he doesn't have sympathetic qualities. His friend Christopher is all-good, cheerful and self-sacrificing. The ship's captain is an unbelievable, half-baked fanatic, a cardboard villain one of whose major crimes appears to be an unlovely personal appearance. And the fourth character, the mate Morgen, is so blank that even the blurb on the book cover could only think of "pedestrian" for him.
The conclusion is peculiarly unsatisfying; we're left hanging, with the physical fate of the one still-living character remaining in the balance, but more importantly with the themes of the book, such as they are, unresolved. To a limited extent, the book raises questions about authority, fanaticism, and class, but it does not offer even limited conclusions.
It's not all bad. The plot does move along with sufficient action, and I found the book reasonably entertaining. I don't, however, think there are grounds for hailing this as a significant work of literature. A competent afternoon's read, yes.