EPS Review #116 - Sharpe's Tiger

Sharpe's Tiger, by Bernard Cornwell, Harper Collins 1998, 378pp.

Twice now I have been to the East India Club, at the kind invitation of the father of my friend Neil, both of whom form part of our pub-quiz team down at the Cat and the Fiddle. While the Groucho Club seemed like a sophisticated party, and the Reform Club felt like the corridors of power, the East India Club is rough and ready. The atmosphere is helped by the club's policy of very cheap membership for young men. Several of these were at our dinner table last time, treating their dads to a meal. We had all just heard a lecture on the battle of Trafalgar by a lucid writer and historian whose name I forget (in a nutshell he said Napoleon was doomed to failure because he was trying to restrict free trade, while England was the chief exponent of value-added trade). The fathers next to me were two-fisted drinkers, literally. They had persuaded the waitress to fill up both their wine and water glasses with wine, and had even coaxed extras of the excellent lamb chops. When the conversation turned, as it inevitably will following a lecture on Trafalgar, to Patrick O'Brian, we shared our enthusiasm, and then one recommended the Hornblower series, which I always meant to read eventually, and some stuff about Sharpe, which was both a set of books and a TV show.

I forgot about Sharpe for a while, when none other than Patricia reminded me of it. She had bought cassettes of Sharpe's Tiger for Ross to listen to, so I bought the paperback and raced through it. Life in the British army, and the siege of Seringapatam, were harsh and gory -- Ross said he loved it! The story is not quite the intellectual treat of Aubrey/Maturin, but it is a good read all the same. Private Sharpe is a convincing hero, and I enjoyed how his natural leadership discomfited the British officer Lawson on their joint secret mission. But the mainspring of the plot is the despicable sergeant Hakeswill. I kept wanting him to die, but knew it would fatally harm the plot if he did. I also liked the Tippoo, and would have enjoyed more about him.

The historical note at the end was fascinating, and it was a thrill to learn that Arthur Wellesley would develop into Lord Wellington. There is a lot to learn, and now the pleasure of looking forward to a series to read. And then I bet I will want to visit Stratfield Saye, if not Seringapatam!

My only quibble is that contrary to page 319, you should never shoot a tiger in the head. I'll never forget Jim Corbett's story of doing just that, with a high powered rifle, and seeing a three-inch piece of skull come off, that only annoyed the big man-eater, which got away and had started to heal when Corbett finally got it through the heart.

Ryan wrote: "Master and Commander" really was a rollicking good movie Afterward, I started into the books directly... but alas only made it through two

I replied: Interesting, I tell people to keep going through the first two before giving up, since I found the first volume so-so, but was hooked after the second. I liked the movie as well, but found it significantly different from the book, particularly the character of the doctor Maturin. The books are really about his relationship with Aubrey and later with Diana. Though, what am I saying, the books are about ships and other neat stuff. Relationships are for girls!

Ed wrote: Very interesting -- you should definitely read Hornblower, although my recommendation is from an experience nearly 25 years ago... I am a latecomer to Patrick O'Brian, but have loved them. A couple of notes on Wellington. He was the most illiberal Prime Minister until Tony Blair, introducing the most draconian legislation and strongly opposing civil liberties. He also opposed the 1832 Reform Act whose purpose was to reform a lot of abominable political practices. Funnily enough from the age of 8 till 13 I was at school with a Charles Wellesley who was a direct descendant of Wellington. Stratfield Saye is a great house but not as good as some other stately homes (Castle Howard, say).

David wrote: This sounds pretty good. You've also made me want to read Corbett's stories, as you linked to below. I assume you recommend them?

I replied: Oh yes, I recommend Corbett very highly indeed. He was not just a hunter, but an early conservationist as well. The stories are gripping as well as being true, and Corbett himself remains a bit of a mystery to me. He was an Englishman born in India, which made him a second-class citizen in British society. He never married, but lived with his sister in Naini Tal. His books were very successful, and I think he even was with Queen Elisabeth in Africa when she got news that she was queen (Tree Tops). Check whether those omnibus editions have all the photos. The Indians named a national park after him.