In the Doldrums by Simon Dieppe – novel review

In the Doldrums by Simon Dieppe

Imagine the world ends, but you’re not around to see it.

In the Doldrums follows Donal O’Brien, a writer who is running from his failings as a journalist and committing to his girlfriend by impulsively boarding a merchant ship. He has a vision of telling the amazing stories of those on board, but it is while on this ship in the middle of the ocean that a nuclear war breaks out. Communication from land is lost, and human life has been largely wiped out. Survivors, if there are any, don’t have much chance of survival.

Being at sea has protected the ship from the blast, yet Donal and his twenty-one shipmates have to navigate a new life for themselves. They have enough provisions to last a fair while, and they find other useful cargo aboard, but what next? Beyond mere surviving, how will the crew coexist now that all order has left the world, and the land is too unsafe to return to?

From the get go I found this to be an incredibly compelling concept that opens itself up to a myriad of possibilities, and Dieppe doesn’t fall into the trap that many dystopian authors do of making the plot the main character. In the Doldrums is a story about the people on the ship rather than the situation they are in. It is about the fragile concept of power and the burden of duty and routine, of hope and hopelessness, of survivor’s guilt, loneliness and isolation. The world has exploded, but Dieppe focuses so tightly on these characters that it feels small and cramped rather than emptier than ever before.

As there is nothing but miles upon miles of sea surrounding the ship, there is an oppressive heaviness throughout this novel. At first a merchant ship seems like the perfect place for Donal to be during an apocalypse, but beyond the novelty of survival grows boredom, suspicion, conflict and confusion, and nowhere to escape from it. The crew are used to routine and rules and hierarchy, being as they are seasoned seamen, but a sense of futility soon emerges.

Donal was a great conduit for this story. Being a journalist, he analyses the crew and their motives closely but impartially. Assumably like most readers, the life of a merchant seaman is new to him, and I found out so much about a lifestyle and industry that was so foreign to me without the plot being paused and restarted once the information was imparted.

In the Doldrums felt like an old school dystopian novel from the 1970s in terms of pacing and its character-driven plot. It took its time but never in a way that felt slow or unneccessary. The writing was confident, succinct and captivating, and a must if you love the works of John Wyndham and the likes.

If you take a chance on a self-published novel this year, I couldn’t recommend In the Doldrums enough. You can get a copy of it now on Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *