REVIEW: The Open Arms of the Sea by Jasper Dorgan
A story of forbidden love in a forgotten war. It is 1965 and Leslie Deacon has escaped to the Army to lose himself in the war-ravaged Aden deserts. But under the scorch of the Yemeni sun there is no hiding from death, or love, or himself.
Dear Jasper Dorgan,
I started and put your book down several times – I have this annoying habit of checking out the ending in many books I read for the first time. I was not sure if I could handle the book with this ending. The third time was the charm – I decided to persevere and the ending ended up looking more hopeful. However romance readers beware – this is *not* genre Romance and this is all I am going to say. This is a well written war drama with subtle love story and likeable main characters. The war in question appears to be this one, but I am not hundred percent sure. My knowledge of these events is pretty much non- existent, so I cannot judge the accuracy of the setting.
I thought that narrative described universal grim realities of war very well without going in a lot of explicit descriptions. It was not glossed over at all, I just thought the writer was very effective with words without going in the lot of descriptions and when he was describing violence, I thought it was absolutely necessary. When I finished the book I was commiserating with the main character about what he and the soldiers under his command were doing in Aden, hopelessness of this war, which British Government was not really calling a war, but of course was one.
Leslie (Harry) Deacon is the kind of the hero I want to see more often in m/m / gay romances. I said that this book is not a Romance, but I definitely think that Deacon could be called a romantic lead in a best sense of the word.
He cares about his soldiers; he tries to do the right thing, the honorable thing while he is serving. He may not always succeed, but he tries to be a decent human being. Of course during the war the soldiers including Deacon often have to do what the higher ups tell them to do and even the best of them have to follow orders. I don’t know, I just really believed in how this character behaved and sympathized with him for the most part of the book – even when he made mistakes and tried to correct them.
Deacon was also a gay man deeply in the closet. We do not get a lot of his introspection on this topic, which makes a complete sense to me – he is too busy fighting a war after all. We only get a few paragraphs in the whole book, like this one for example and I think we get to read Deacon being introspective one more time before the book ends (not counting the ending here):
“Deacon watched the men being roused from their half – slumbers under the canvas sheets that stretched between the vehicles. They gathered their guns and hats and emerged shirtless into the sun; a yawning, moody parade of tanned, muscled shoulders, broad chests and smooth trooper-bodies. The men steamed and glistened in the lime Tihammah light. Deacon felt a tightness grip his skull and the burn of his blood rushing in veins. It was a sensation he tried to curb but spiked within him unbidden. The same passionate sensation born and released by half naked Mr. Havers in the afterhours school room and from whose guilt he had been trying to flee ever since. He had flown to hide in the army, covering his shame and disgust in the uniform of duty and servility. But it is still spiked, letting him know that he hadn’t run far enough and that it still lurked in his shadow.”
As I said it made perfect sense to me and I would have been rolling my eyes if the officer, who had his hands full fighting the war, trying to survive and help his men survive, would be giving us pages and pages of angsty monologue. I am glad he didn’t do that. I still found the love story beautiful though no matter how much in the background and how subtle it was till the very end. The man who at the end becomes a love interest is the Corporal in David’s group.
“Corporal Lockett stepped up beside him. He was a small man, barely coming up to Deacon’s chin, but he occupied his space with a confidence and youthful brio that made him appear taller. Lockett had been with him for more than six months but Deacon had never really settled in his un-servile care. The corporal had a way of always having an answer, or a question, and of always being there, like an eager shadow.”
I liked this man just as much as I liked Deacon, and I thought that humor that he provided, brief smile here and there was very appropriate and did not feel out of place in the war theater.
I really liked how the story showed to the reader how Deacon started to care for David Lockett without him ever naming those feelings for the readers.
“ I can’t have bad blood in the troop, corporal.”
“You won’t sir. All over and done with. Ably and Doyle won’t try it again. They may be magpies, but they won’t be stupid enough to piss in their own nest again. They are Ok lads really, sir. Just need a little guidance.”
“We are not running a reform school, corporal.”
Lockett looked up at Deacon, his eyes wide and round in surprise.
“Well, that is certainly news to me, sir.”
Deacon laughed. It felt good to have his shadow back.”
“Deacon saw Lockett’s grin, just as he saw Lockett open the door and close it behind him, but it didn’t quite register. Deacon sat sitting in his chair staring at the door, trying to gather his wits. He had felt many things while in Aden, but a dawning worry for Lockett was a new and troubling one.”
As much as I am talking about love story I want to emphasize again that first and foremost this is a story about war – it is not all dim and grim, but there is enough of that and if that’s not your cup of tea, as much as I loved the book I strongly advise avoiding it.
What I also want to praise the writer for is the villain of the story. One of the reviews I have read (I did not get the story with the intention of reviewing it here so I did read the reviews) talked about how horrible he was and he definitely was that, but I was surprised how his awfulness sort of sneaked out on me. I mean, I found him flaky and not very nice from the beginning, but then it was like – oh crap, he is so much worse than just that.