Earthshaker: The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico (1969)

There are minor spoilers in this post so please consider yourself warned.

Then why did hope persist? Why this upward striving, this eternal climbing by himself and these ill-assorted people, castaways in a floating tomb, the odds on whose chances for rescue were astronomical?

A group of people, herded together because of some natural calamity or man-made trouble is a trope I enjoy a lot. It is interesting to watch the truths come out as the tensions from within and without crack the people apart. Danger can be as much from the external situation as the internal conflicts.

In Paul Gallico’s The Poseidon Adventure, a group of people try to reach safety when the ocean-liner they are travelling in gets hit by a giant wave (tsunami before we knew it to be tsunami) and turns up-side down. Though the novel consists in large part of people trying to climb-up and trying to mount insurmountable obstructions, it is to the credit of the author that he does not let the writing become boring and there were only a few patches where I felt the going tedious and repetitive. Also though I did not find even one character wholly likeable, I still felt for them and wanted them to survive, which is unusual and again to the author’s credit as usually I have to like at least one character to enjoy a book.

The group that tries to make its way atop to the hull are lead by Reverend Frank Scott who reminded me of new-age gurus for whom the universe bends to one’s will. And his rather sadistic-act of kicking away the Christmas tree by which the group had made its way to the kitchens was appalling! I just wish that the poor Italian doctor who could not see without his glasses and would not leave the injured in the dining-hall was among the survivors. Also appalling was how the Shelbys just abandon their plucky little boy. I just can’t imagine parents or siblings doing it and Jane Shelby was the worst of the lot because she made a big hue and cry and abused and humiliated her husband (who at least had the decency to not throw the fact that she was responsible for the little boy back in her face) and yet citing the excuse that she owed more to the living, left the child.

This was disgusting especially when a steward had refused to leave his colleague because they had been working together for so long and the girl Pamela didn’t leave in lurch her drinking companion Beamer (And I loved the author sly comment: The great and potent deity, Bacchus, had looked after his own again.)

Also thought that the book was a comment on the absurdity of life and the universe. Things are upside down; those we think will survive do not necessarily do so; death and survival doesn’t depend on struggle and striving against odds; heroism, indifference, and even cowardice get all mingled up and the ultimate reward is not what or how we think it is.

All in all an enjoyable human drama set against a ticking-clock. Now I am keen to watch the movies based on it, especially the 1972 one which I have heard good things about. Have you read the book or seen the movies? What are your views?

*

First Line: At seven o’clock, the morning of the 26th day of December, the S.S. Poseidon, 81,000 tons, homeward bound…

First Published: 1969

Publishing Details: London: Pan Books, 1975.

Pages: 335

Other Opinions: JetBlackDragonFly, Obsessive Compulsive Reader

Other Books read by the same author: None

14 thoughts on “Earthshaker: The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico (1969)

  1. I read this book as a teen after I had seen the truly thrilling nail-bitingly suspenseful disaster movie in 1972. The book is not at all like the movie. The movie is an action thriller and became the template for the 1970s craze of similar disaster films (Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Airplane 1977, etc.) I was far too young to understand the novel’s mature themes you perceptively picked up on and was easily bored because the people from the movie, for the most part, are not present in the book. Certainly all the action sequences are missing and that made it dull reading for a teenage boy. It was interesting to me to discover that large groups had been rescued in the novel as opposed to the handful of survivors in the novel. Admittedly, I prefer the movie to the book. And frankly I don’t remember much of the book at all even after reading your review. NOTE: if you’ve not seen the movie the Shelby kids are travelling on their own; their parents do not appear in the movie. The sister is made into a older teen, about 17 or 18, and the brother is about 12 or 13.

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    1. Hello John, hope 2022 has begun well. Thanks for that detailed note. I can well understand why a teenager would find the book dull as action takes a back-seat to the conversation b/w the members of the group. The Shelby girl – Susan- is seventeen in the book too but the brother is I think younger nearabout ten. Wonder why the parents were not included in the movie because in the book they have a massive presence. After your description of the movie, I am all the more keen to watch it.

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  2. I remember the film, Neeru – it is really suspenseful! It’s interesting how there can be so many layers to a story, isn’t it? Here, you have the story of survival, some commentary on life and the choices we make, the whole thing. I respect it when an author can wrap all those layers together.

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    1. Yes, Margot, it is definitely a notch higher than the usual thriller. Really enjoyed it and I think it is going to stay with me. I think I have another book of Gallico’s too. Will certainly be reading it.

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  3. I haven’t read the book but I did enjoy the 1972 movie, especially because it was such fun casting. Shelley Winters especially always stands out in my mind as having given a great performance. And for the era, the special effects were pretty good too, though whether they would still seem that way to modern eyes I don’t know.

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  4. I read The Poseidon Adventure many years ago and I enjoyed the 1972 movie version, too. At one time, adventure novels and adventure movies used to be staples of publishing and Hollywood. But, like Westerns, Adventure novels and movies seem to have faded away.

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    1. George, I have always loved disaster movies. In India, a good example of that is The Burning Train which still holds well. Was never into Westerns but adventure novels are fun. To my mind, Jurassic Park (the first part) is a wonderful disaster movie.

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  5. Neeru, I’m with you on JURASSIC PARK (Part 1). Disaster strikes and keeps going! I don’t know if the new AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS is available for you. Our Public Broadcasting Station is running it on Sunday nights. The latest episode had Phileas Fogg and his companions in India. But, actually, that scene was shot in South Africa.

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  6. This PBS version of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS isn’t following the Jules Verne book exactly so I’m not sure what will happen to Fogg and the woman he loves…yet. Still four more episodes to go. And, paradoxically, a Second Season has been approved. I did enjoy Shivaani Ghai as the woman leader of a village in India.

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