P. Keene January 14, 2013
What might have been a story of degredation and despair becomes considerably less fraught, thanks to Edward’s optimism, resilience and good luck.
The narrative lens for This Wonderful Year is Edward’s Candide-like innocence and optimism, and this is the source of much of this novel’s considerable charm. Seeing a frigate of the Napoleonic era through naive, but intelligent, eyes provides a good deal of pleasure to the reader. We enjoy following Edward’s transition from a fop to a broad-shouldered, serious-minded young man. The novel is well constructed. Tight pacing keeps us turning the pages and the straightforward chronology of a coming-of-age novel is chunked into engaging episodes.
While there are enough contretemps to provide narrative tension, this is a novel of unrelenting optimism. Pamprill sees only the good in everyone and, despite some intial disappointments, people rise to his expectations. Not only is he a lucky penny, but he brings out the best in everyone he meets. The book, however, is not a cloying pilgrim’s progress thanks to the author’s deftly ironic prose. Benno is, in fact, a marvelous wordsmith, and his prose—writerly but not bombastic, allusive but not obscure, ironic but not mean—is one of the great pleasures of this novel.
Steve Donoghue February 2012 Contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.
Mark E. Benno’s cheerful, delightful throwback of a novel is subtitled The Adventures of Mister Edward Pamprill, and that is exactly what Benno’s readers get in the ensuing pages.
Young and slightly supercilious Edward Pamprill is on his way to his friend Jeremy Rampton’s Honeymoon Masquerade (which “surpassed in debauchery all but the most Bacchanalian of soirees”) when he’s pressed into very unwilling service aboard His Majesty’s vessel Atlantis through the conniving of his unscrupulous father, Baron Pamprill.
Where young Edward had expected to be “pillowed upon the breast of Venus, hours away from a petite breakfast served by an attentive Gibson, immediately followed by a shave made more fragrant with lavender-scented water,” he’s instead thrown into an unbroken series of adventures in the Nelson-era navy that would have exhausted such fictional compatriots as Peter Simple or Horatio Hornblower, all narrated by Benno with zest and considerable talent.
There are storms, raids, hand-to-hand combat, and since the year is 1805, we also hear rumblings of the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. And through it all, as is customary in this type of novel, Edward proves his mettle in ways he never could have as a pampered baron’s heir back home. Highly recommended.
Julian Mackrell, UK April 26, 2012
Georgian historical naval fiction with a difference: This Wonderful Year’s principal subject is not a sailor and is never likely to be. Indeed, that Edward Pamprill begins the book as a pampered rich kid and ends it taking his place in the House of Lords, did not fill me with much enthusiasm for reading of his exploits, nor sympathy for his plight. And yet...
...and yet, this is one of the most charming HNF novels I have had the pleasure to read. Benno writes with a fine feel for period detail, concentrating on characterisation while allowing his plot to evolve steadily at a relatively sedate pace, a virtually day-by-day approach that will likely resonate with lovers of Patrick O’Brian. Much of the action takes place ashore, and Pamprill is a landsman, so This Wonderful Year has few naval technicalities; some of his “landsman’s howlers” [e.g. “the big pole in the middle”] are refreshing and mildly humorous.
Pamprill is perhaps a little too good to be true, as also is the cosy nature of the book in general, yet I found the story compelling and even quite emotional at times. But then, I’m a big softy at heart! This would seem to be the author’s first book, so all credit to him for such a splendid start.
Todd Conner May 27, 2012 Actor, writer and filmmaker whose signature work is a solo adapted performance of Ovid's Metamorphoses
There is so much to like about Mark Benno’s This Wonderful Year it’s hard to know where to start. From Mr. Benno’s first literary “wink” at the reader at the beginning, establishing his storytelling conceit and framing his tale, to the very last word of the novel, you will be swept forward into this reading adventure as dramatically and suddenly as Edward Pamprill was swept aboard into his adventures on the high seas. And what a pleasure this forced conscription is! Benno’s storytelling is marvelous!