The Alistair MacLean Thread
Welcome to The Alistair MacLean Thread, a place where you can share thoughts and reviews and memories of Alistair MacLean, his books, the movies, covers, posters, anecdotes of his life, career and opinions on his literary style…
Whether you are a fan or not, feel free to contribute to the thread. I will be posting some reviews and thoughts as I watch or read, but not in any specific order or to any timeframe…
When I was a teenager, I avidly read Alistair MacLean, borrowing books from the library and purchasing others when I could afford to. I never had a complete set as I stopped collecting in 1983. I didn’t read a single one of his novels ever again after that, except for the occasional dip into my favourite, Caravan to Vaccares. Until recently…
In 2019 I was browsing my local British Heart Foundation and they had four of MacLean’s novels on sale at £2 apiece, the Harper reissues from 2009. My original MacLean collection was mostly the vividly enticing Fontana paperbacks from the late seventies, but I gave them away to a charity shop – yes, even Vaccares – a couple of decades ago. It suddenly felt as if a higher literary and charitable power was telling me something. A fire was ignited. I bought the four novels and read them all in rapid succession. The question for me now was whether I wanted to restart a dormant obsession. I think, after four more years, the time is about right…
MacLean is easily researched on Wiki and various other websites, so I don’t see the need to bore you with a resume of his life, career and work. However, I will start the ball rolling with a brief summary, as I perceive it, of his literary canon:
Alistair MacLean (1922 – 1987)
Along with many commentators, I consider the MacLean writing oeuvre falls into five distinct acts:
Act 1: Early Success: 1955 – 1959: MacLean releases his first five novels to great acclaim. They are excellently plotted, well prosed and eminently readable.
Act 2: A Period of Doubt: 1960 -1963: Maclean believes people are only buying his novels because of his burgeoning reputation. These misgivings increase after the success of the film The Guns of Navarone. He publishes under a pseudonym in an attempt to prove himself. Eventually, despite continued success, he takes a sabbatical.
Act 3: International Period: 1966 – 1971: MacLean returns with six highly successful novels and a string of movie adaptations which make his fortune.
Act 4: Treading Water: 1973 – 1978: Returning from another sabbatical, MacLean seems to lower his interest in the novels, preferring to follow his lucrative movie projects. His books become less well-structured and appear formulaic.
Act 5: Decline: 1980 – 1986: A series of tepid novels bring Maclean’s career to a close while the movie adaptations dry up. He still sells books by the million but the reservations about his talent during the early sixties seem to have become a self-fulfilling prophesy by the early eighties.
I have still not read all of MacLean’s novels, but of the ones I have, if I needed to pick winners from each of these acts, I would nominate:
1: The Last Frontier
2: Fear is the Key
3: Caravan to Vaccares
4: Breakheart Pass
5: River of Death
which is not your usual list, missing many established favourites.
From the movie adaptations [there are fifteen – 14 for the cinema and 1 for television] of the ones I have seen, I would suggest the following three titles [in release date order] perhaps best interpret MacLean’s work for the screen:
The Guns of Navarone
Where Eagles Dare
When Eight Bells Toll
So, guys, over to you…
Some not so lovely film tie in covers to tide us over. The second one of Vaccares is there because it is one of my favourite hardback covers of all time - along with my avatar, of course.