Many books have been devoted to one of Britain’s most famous heroes, Horatio Nelson, particularly his defeat of the French in the battle of Trafalgar. However, not many high school or university history courses pay too much heed to his relationship with his mistress, Emma Hamilton.
David Donachie’s work of fiction, On a Making Tide, which is the first tome of a trilogy, recounts a sequence of events of both Nelson and Hamilton prior to their becoming lovers.
As the story unfolds, the reader becomes aware of two parallel tracks, one devoted to the unbelievable success of Nelson, who enters the navy at the age of twelve and is appointed post captain at the age of twenty. The other is a tale of a teenage girl, who rises from the ranks of a prostitute to become a kept woman of an English nobleman.
Donachie in his author’s note at the end of the book points out “that the book is fiction based on the facts surrounding two remarkable people. While it is historical it is not meant to be history.”
That brings us to the difference between the historian and the novelist.
The historian, as compared to the novelist, is obliged to credibly theorize as to why and how something happened without hiding anything from its readers. There is no question of including suspense, as is the case of historical fiction, for the principal objective of the historian is to tell the “truth” about the past. On the other hand, authors of historical fiction want to create an atmosphere where the reader is propelled to turn the pages and follow the narrative to its conclusion.
No doubt, Donachie has succeeded in creating an opportunity for his readers to visit the past without being bogged down with all kinds of fact-crammed data that are all too prevalent when reading an historian’s account of events. However, should the reader want to investigate further, the door is always open. There certainly are thousands of books in libraries and book- stores on the subject matter.
The strength of Donachie’s writing lies in his convincing dialogue that brilliantly conveys the personalities of Nelson and Hamilton, as well as his other characters, moving the story along at a fast clip. When reading their conversations, speech patterns, vocabulary and rhythms, a believable sense of time and place is created. No explanations are required, as the words, as well as the actions of the characters, speak for themselves.
The author certainly has done his homework and is a fine craftsman, for in order to effectively put life into his characters, historical facts are very cleverly intertwined into the story.
I would surmise that after reading part one of the trilogy, readers will undoubtedly want to learn more about Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton.
To read Bookpleasures interview with David Donachie click HERE