Author Topic: The boys in the cave (Matt Gutman)  (Read 443 times)

Offline Duncan Price

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The boys in the cave (Matt Gutman)
« on: December 02, 2018, 07:36:29 pm »
"The boys in the cave, deep inside the impossible rescue in Thailand" by Matt Gutman

Published by William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) 29th November 2018 (in the UK)

HB 307 pages + 16 pages of colour photos. Size 152 mm x 229 mm. ISBN 978-0-06-290991-6 £20

There can't be any reader of this forum that doesn't know about the rescue in July 2018 of 12 Thai soccer kids and their coach from Tham Luang cave in Chang Rai province, northern Thailand.  I was particularly invested in the drama at the time as I was getting married on July 14th and three of my wedding guests (including my best man and one of the ushers) were part of the UK diving team undertaking this operation.  Furthermore, a couple of my diving regulators had been donated as part of the effort to supply equipment and I had no expectations of ever seeing them again: indeed, I was concerned that the same fate might befall some of my mates.*

Because many of the team have given presentations about the incident since their return and the whole saga has been covered extensively by the media, I had little expectation of this book adding much to what I had already read or heard about.  I was more curious to discover how the story would be told to the public.  The author is an ABC News reporter who was on the ground in Thailand at the time and the book is based upon his interviews with some of those involved.  It is only natural to expect contributors to paint themselves in a positive light and the author treads a careful path around many of the tensions that arose during the incident.  Anyone with experience of cave rescues will be able to read between the lines and imagine what was really going on.

The text is obviously aimed at non-cavers and the author faces the challenge of explaining a lot of technical detail.  Some of it is quite cringe-worthy (e.g. cave divers are described as "pessimistic" because they "habitually expect trouble") but once the author gets into his stride it is done quite well. I picked up on a few errors - for example it is claimed at 150 UK cave divers have died (it is less than 30) and that diving to 200 m results in your lungs being squashed to one twentieth of their volume (only if you are free-diving).  One consistent mistake is the miss-spelling of John Volanthen's surname (and the photo of "Jim Branchley") which was pointed out to the publishers at proof stage and it would be too laborious to nit-pick at every page.  To be honest, the mistakes don't detract from the narrative which is in a similar writing style to James Tabor's "Blind Descent."  The author is American, and the dramatic style is for an American audience with the measurements being in imperial units.

The book is divided into two sections.  The first part deals with the group becoming trapped in the cave and concludes  with their discovery by John and Rick, with the second part being their rescue.  Each chapter ends with some literary precipice in order to get the reader to turn the page and I found myself sucked into the unfolding events even though the outcome was known to me.  There are occasional footnotes to provide further information to the reader  These are sometimes hilarious: such as the definition of "cockwomble" (!) and I was flattered to get an unexpected mention in one of them.  The author does particularly well to sneak in a reference to Rick's nose (a long running in-joke amongst his friends) as early as page 4.  We could not have done better ourselves!

To be honest, I really enjoyed reading the book.  I did learn some snippets that I'd not known before.  The author let the participants be the centre of action and at times I really felt that I was there with them.  Though the ending came as no surprise, when I finally put the book down I thought to myself "Good effort lads!"

This isn't the first book on the subject with a couple of authors jumping on the bandwagon before everyone's gear was dry.  At least two more books are due out in the New Year: "The Cave in Asia" by Liam Cochrane (Australian news reporter - due out in January 2019) and "Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue" by Marc Aronson (who did a book on the Chilean miners - this one is due out in March 2019).  "The boys in the cave" sets a high standard and hopefully the other books will present the saga in an similarly entertaining and informative way.  I've pre-ordered copies...

* My gear came back in one piece, and more importantly my best man returned in time to come to the rehearsal on the evening before the ceremony.  I'm reliably informed that the Thai authorities wanted the team to stay on for a while but they said that they had other engagements.  The best man still owes me the surprise stag party that he'd planned...

Offline Pitlamp

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Re: The boys in the cave (Matt Gutman)
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2018, 09:03:46 am »
Thanks for taking the time to write that Duncan; this is not a book I'd have gone out of my way to get otherwise - but your words have encouraged me to read it at some stage.
(Maybe you could produce something for the April CDG Newsletter as well?)

What really impresses me is the relatively short timescale over which the book's been written. (As a published author yourself, I'm sure you'll know what I mean.)

I think the "Good effort lads" sentiment reflects the opinion of the whole British caving community.

By the way, I've spent more than half this year distracted from normal things by circumstances beyond my control. I didn't know you'd got married; hearty congratulations to you both!

Offline bograt

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Re: The boys in the cave (Matt Gutman)
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2018, 11:27:47 am »
Excellent review Duncan, hope CDG can expect a share of the royalties----
Aim low, achieve your goals, avoid disappointment

Offline Jenny P

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Re: The boys in the cave (Matt Gutman)
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2018, 01:44:36 pm »
An excellent review - many thanks.

We already have this on order for the British Caving Library where we intend to try to collect all published material on the rescue.  We have also pre-ordered another book due out soon and will make sure we buy them all as they come out.

We are also trying to collect serious articles published by non-caving sources and already have the complete sequence of all the articles published in the Guardian newspaper over the course of the rescue and afterwards as, on the whole, the coverage was sensible and generally non-sensational.  We also have an edition of "Soldier", which contains an excellent article on this and also on cave diving generally.