Tuesday 24 July 2012

Long John Silver by Bjorn Larsson - Review

I’ve just finished this one and had to take the opportunity to recommend it to anyone who likes a good pirate story. But it’s more than that, actually. Not only does it riff off the original Treasure Island but it takes the Silver character and fleshes him out in a way that’s wholly respectful of the source material and yet at the same time very much an original creation.  The prose is excellent and totally in character for the eighteenth century, made all the more impressive that it was written in Swedish and translated brilliantly into realistically briny and nautical English.

Larsson’s Silver is a compelling and fascinating individual, powered by the desire to live on after his inevitable demise. To this end, he sets to penning his autobiography from the island sanctuary to where he has retired. Larsson has given him a truly memorable history, full of incident and adventure, stuffed to the gunwales with authentic period detail. Real characters and events mix with the fictional creations and it seems from the author’s postscript that the former might well outweigh the latter.

At a certain point, Silver starts to realise that the literary character bearing his name has taken on a life of his own; in a way, the act of writing down his account of his life is almost hastening his end. The flesh and blood fades away as the legacy steps forward to take its turn in the spotlight.

For all the treachery, bloodshed, rapacity and lusty seafaring, Silver’s character comes across as immensely likeable in a strange way. He breaks from the linear narrative several times, at one point encountering Daniel Defoe in a London tavern, assisting the author with his work “General History of the Pyrates” on the condition that Silver himself is left out.  As the story continues, an air of melancholy infects the narrative as, one by one, the old pirates are hunted down or die in mires of vomit and brandy. Just as Pike Bishop saw out the era of the traditional outlaw, so Silver stands as sentry at the exit door for such colourful characters as Flint, Taylor, Hands and England.

A thoroughly enjoyable work and recommended – not just for pirate enthusiasts but for anybody who is starting to look at the story of their own life and wondering how they will be read by generations to come. 

Did I mention that the front cover is by Howard Pyle?


  1. Interesting. I hadn't heard of this.

  2. Sounds cool. I'll have to look into this. Howard Pyle? Really, that's pretty awesome!

  3. @Trey - there are several different interpretations of LJS by other authors (John Drake, Dennis Judd) but this one garnered the best reviews on Amazon so I thought I'd give it first shot and thank goodness I did.

    @R J Thompson - I think there are other editions of the book that don't have the Pyle cover. This one is the Harvill edition.

    Rumour has it that a LJS prequel film (not of this book) is in the works but don't get your hopes up; it's directed by Michael Bay.

  4. i also heard "Dead Man's Chest" by Roger L. Johnson is a good sequel to RLS's Treasure Island. it also has LJS as a main character...