Two characters dominate this novel: the wireless operator, Adcock, who narrates the story, and the flying boat’s pilot and captain, Bennett. Through them, and through the minor characters in this narrative, Sillitoe explores the motivations that drive men to act in a world devoid of meaning.
Sillitoe’s narrator is a curious combination of observer and quester. Trained to be a listener at his wireless set, Adcock is also a listener in a larger sense: He takes in what others tell him about themselves, about their experiences, about their hopes, desires, and frustrations; he sifts it in his own mind as he tries to make sense of human experience. Isolated from the world in several ways—a recent divorcee, a man without steady employment—he hires on with a strange captain and crew for an adventure whose purpose is only vaguely clear to him. The fact that the other members of the flying boat crew all served together under Bennett only serves to heighten Adcock’s isolation. Through him, Sillitoe is able to introduce the reader obliquely to this clandestine world of piracy and lawlessness—a world that stands in microcosm for the larger, postwar world.
Like many of Sillitoe’s other heroes, Adcock is painfully alone in a world that appears as a jungle, where individuals act from personal motives, for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Through Adcock, the reader learns something of the motives that drive men on the fringes of modern society to act as they do. Adcock’s frustrations help the reader to see the immense difficulty modern man has in trying to make...
(The entire section is 649 words.)