Age of Sail / Bounty / John Boyne / Mutiny / Nautical Fiction / Royal Navy

Mutiny on the Bounty, by John Boyne

The Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the most well known nautical events ever. In a sense, it has become an iconic event, along with the sinking of the Titanic. Several books have been written about it – even poems by Lord Byron. Movies have been made, actually five movies! And there have been works of art, scientific articles, non-fiction books, and lots of other things done and written as well.

Some of the facts are pretty clear. There was a mutiny on the HMS Bounty, originally sent out on a botanical expedition. The mutiny was led by lieutenant Fletcher Christian. Along with a majority of the crew, he seized Bounty after leaving Tahiti in April 1789. The mutineers set the captain, William Bligh, along with loyal crew members and officers adrift in a small boat with a small amount of food.

And, of course, a major reason it has become such a famous event, is to a large extent that against all odds, by some extraordinary feat and most likely a lot of luck as well, William Blight and most of his men actually did make it back to civilization in that little boat. In addition, the story has a lot of elements that are intriguing and exotic – the violence and sadism, the easy life and “free sex” on Tahiti, the epic small boat voyage and heroism of the survivors, and more. There are many factors that make this an appealing event to write about and even make movies about.

However, Boyne’s take on the mutiny on Bounty differs considerably from the established interpretations. Earlier books and films mostly place the blame for the mutiny squarely on Captain Bligh. I, for instance, remember how it felt as if Marlon Brando as the cavalier Fletcher Christian almost waited too long to seize the ship from the tyrannical captain. But in Boyne’s version, the blame is instead mostly on more objective conditions: He shows how the English sailors experienced the carefree life on the Polynesian island, with lots of food, lots of women, and no worries as a kind of paradise on earth. And how they, after a while, did not want to return to “civilization” and for sure had no longing for the hard work and tough discipline of the Navy.

And, in Boyne’s version, it is Christian who is the character you after a while dislike, while Captain Bligh – who certainly is not painted all white by Boyne – is a character that treats his men in a most respectful and mild manner, and is portrayed as a very sympathetic character.

Mutiny on the Bounty is excellently written and very interesting to read. Boyne lets the captain’s servant, a 14-year-old boy named John Jacob Turnstile, tell the story. And in the process, he tells the story of this boy and that of the mutiny together. This is very nicely done and works well. Also, the story has a lot of warmth and humor as well as violence and is full of historical detail.

This is a very good and original historical fiction novel by Boyne. I would not call it suspenseful, but even so, the pages just fly by simply because the story is so good, so well told and so rich in itself. The storytelling is simply extraordinary. I thoroughly enjoyed Mutiny on the Bounty!