The Gun - C.S. Forester (1933)
Last month’s TGBC Book to was C. S. Forester’s The Gun. Published in 1933 it preceded Forester's well known Hornblower series.
Like the Hornblower novels, it is set during a time of war, and like that series, doesn't hesitate to describe in detail the savagery and brutality of armed conflict.
The story follows Spanish partisans who have retrieved an abandoned Spanish Army 18 pounder siege cannon, and its use by them of it against the occupying French Army during the 1807-1814 Iberian Peninsula war.
The author succeeds in removing any concept of romance or dignity in war with his description of all opposing sides engaging in the plundering of livestock, foods, cash and even needed recruits from the long suffering peasant population of Spain.
Brutal executions of many is described as being performed by all competing forces.
Central to the story is the power that possession of the cannon brings to the leaders of the guerrilla armies, with one, being so corrupted by power that he falls to the knives of his followers.
Throughout the tale so as to better develop the plot line the author appears to have chosen to generally pass over the input of common foot soldiers, in preference to description of the actions of leaders and of those in command.
The complete lack of involvement of any central female participation in the story, bar several sentences describing a Spanish female camp follower who is left under guard at a French fortress, while her officer companion, mistrusting her, races of to make military decisions, further adds to the perception that the author prefers to write only in depth of those of "real importance" or of "those in command".
In describing how a canister shot from the cannon was so destructive against infantry that "not even an English Battalion" could be as destructive, and how that French ordinance was inferior to English ammunition, Forester permits himself a little nationalistic input.
However, the narrative and plot development remains successful to the extent that a reader should find themselves wondering "what happens next" and, and to that degree; the author and his tale should be judged.
Greg Patching (Williamstown Chapter)
This is a very different novel from acclaimed author CS Forester’s usual nautical swashbuckling. It is a story of an abandoned bronze cannon weighing 3 tonnes. Its discovery by a group of Spanish guerilla fighters in the peninsular war changes their fortunes. At first its huge weight was a problem. Once solved by determination and imagination it was used effectively by the Spaniards and became a battle winning item against the French. Achieving an almost mystic reputation until in one important battle it was smashed into a useless pile of metal. After their precious gun was destroyed, the remnants of the Spanish army fled. They and the gun were finished.
Ken Mason (Windsor Chapter)