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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > The Second Officer's Wife by Robert Ogden (60-64)

The Second Officer's Wife by Robert Ogden (60-64)

This is a self-published book of about 300 pages and a rare work of fiction by an OP.
1 Oct 2019
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews

This is a self-published book of about 300 pages and a rare work of fiction by an OP. Consisting of one longish story of nearly 200 pages and four short stories, the author notes at the outset that “after a mixed career at sea during which he failed to write the novel he wanted,” he has produced one full length novel (“A Shard of Glass” also reviewed some years ago on this site) and “drawn on his experience to paint, with knowledge, unusual situations and draw sensitive and sympathetic characterisation of the people in various scenarios.”

This book certainly fits into this mould. The quality, it has to be said, is uneven. One of the short stories “East End Reunion” makes little sense while another, “The Director of Studies Foibles,” steers dangerously close to libelling the reputation of the DoS during Ogden’s time at the Nautical College. “Smugglers and Pirates” has a real touch of the genuine being seemingly based on an incident the author was involved in during the 1970s. 

“The Second Officer’s Wife” is by far the most substantial of the pieces. It suffers from various structural and conceptual problems, most notably that the reader knows the outcome of the story early on, thereby rather obviously undermining the tension in what is an ingenious and just-about believable plot. Dialogue – always the Achilles Heel of aspiring novelists – is a bit clunky, often verging on speechifying. And there is one odd section where the author tries out various “voices” to describe events from different perspectives, some of which work rather better than others. 

The big positive of this story is the authenticity it offers about the rather rickety life of a young officer in a middling sort of UK shipping company in the 1960s and 1970s. Captain Robert Ogden BSc in fact went from the NCP into P&O and a notable career at sea before coming ashore and ending up as an Instructor/Consultant with the C-Mar Group (global marine and energy services). Today he is retired and lives in Hove, East Sussex. 

The feeling this reader was left with at the end of this collection was “Could do better.” It is not, in truth, easy to convey with much conviction the realities of life at sea in any era but particularly the contemporary one when so few British people have comparable experiences. Nor is it easy to write convincingly about sex. One hopes Robert Ogden persists in his efforts to write a memorable novel but there is some way to go.

by ROBIN KNIGHT

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