The Voyage of the Arctic Tern

This is a sumptuously designed and unusual book, lavishly illustrated in black-and-white – unusual because it is a novel in verse, and because it links a number of sea stories of long ago with a tale of modern salvage.

Narrative verse is difficult to write and has been out of fashion for years. So how successful is this ambitious undertaking? On the positive side, there is an engaging swing to most of the lines, and the writer rarely resorts to awkward inversions. There is a variety of metrical forms and the rhyming is free and flexible. This is sensible, because nothing is more deadly to a verse-narrative than forced, unnatural rhyming. However, on the negative side, it has to be said that the publisher’s blurb is misleading to suggest that the verse needs to be read aloud. It does not – the author often weakens his best effects with repetitive explanations and there are lines (often the final line of a quatrain) which are so banal that in a class of secondary school children there would be groans of derision.

Nick Poullis’s illustrations are decorative and atmospheric but not dramatic, and there is little dynamic between words and pictures.

So is this book worth its publisher’s commitment? Yes it is, because the story, though cumbersome, is an engaging one, especially the account of the modernday recovery of the sunken treasure; and because this is a boldly innovative attempt and might signal a remarriage between narrative and verse.