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Robert Stone: Outerbridge Reach

Once we know that this novel is based, in part, on the story of Donald Crowhurst, we have a pretty good idea as to what is going to happen in this novel. While there is the usual death at the end, it is not brought about by a clash of individuals and groups, as in his earlier novels. Rather it is brought about growing madness and a sense of failure, with the Vietnam syndrome being, of course, a factor.

Owen Browne is not your typical Stone hero. He is in his forties, works for a yacht seller, is a WASP, happily married (to Anne) with children, doesn’t do drugs and was a Navy pilot in the Vietnam war, a war he still believes was right. The company he works for has a new boat coming out and, to advertise it, the owner plans to sail solo around the world. When he disappears, with tales of financial misdeeds, Owen is asked to take his place. Owen, entering the midlife crisis period, willingly agrees. A film-maker called Strickland has been hired to film the event and he soon enters the life of Anne and Owen. He is more the typical Stone character, brash, troubled relationships and outwardly self-confident. Once Owen has set sail, he and Anne start an affair though, like other Stone characters, Anne’s motivations are not love or sex but the need for something else in her life.

Meanwhile, Owen is sailing round the world. However, things are not all easy. He starts hallucinating and, of course, has weather difficulties. More importantly, he finds that the boat has been shabbily constructed and is in danger of falling apart. He lands on an uncharted volcanic island and decides that the only solution is the Donald Crowhurst solution, i.e. to cheat. He sets out back home but, as a decent man, is beset by moral doubts and does the only thing he can do.

Anne and Strickland each show their true colours at the end, with Anne feeling that she has to show appropriate contrition, which she does. Stone tells the story very well and, in particular, his account of Owen alone on his boat with his hallucinations is superb. But the Vietnam factor comes through in the end and Stone’s characters, as always, are left dead or scarred.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Ticknor & Fields