June 7, 2016

I can’t recall whether it was me who gave myself the complete 20-volume “Master and Commander” series of novels by Patrick O’Brian, or whether I had Tracey buy them for me, but it really doesn’t matter:

1.Master and Commander (1969)
2.Post Captain (1972)
3.HMS Surprise (1973)
4.The Mauritius Command (1977)
5.Desolation Island (1978)
6.The Fortune of War (1979)
7.The Surgeon’s Mate (1980)
8.The Ionian Mission (1981)
9.Treason’s Harbour (1983)
10.The Far Side of the World (1984)
11.The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
12.The Letter of Marque (1988)
13.The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)
14.The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
15.Clarissa Oakes (1992) – (The Truelove in the USA)
16.The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
17.The Commodore (1995)
18.The Yellow Admiral (1996)
19.The Hundred Days (1998)
20.Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
21.The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004) – (21 in the USA)

…but here it is, early June, and I’ve just started the ninth entry in the series, Treason’s Harbour, and they have been all an absolute joy to read. Whenever I finish one, I’ll take a few days off before opening the next one, and every time I do it is like being reintroduced to old and happily-familiar characters all over again.

It’s hard to describe O’Brian’s novels as action novels, although there is a fair amount of sea battling going on during the Napoleonic Wars / War of 1812 period that it appears the series covers. (I say “appears” because I haven’t read them all the way through, and have thus far resisted attempts to use various Internet sites out there developed by devotees to sneak a peak at what might be coming.) Rather, given the way he writes, the books feel like a form of long-hand prose developed into a series of adventures that envelop both Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey and his surgeon / naturalist Dr. Stephen Maturin, who also doubles as an intelligence officer working for the Crown.

As I read through the books I am fairly astonished at just how successfully actors Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany captured the essence of Aubrey and Maturin in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I haven’t gotten to that particular book yet – it comes after Treason’s Harbour in the series, but I’ve learned enough to know that movie is only slightly based on the book. Indeed, I see it as an advantage to have seen Master and Commander, because so many of the characters in that movie have been taken from the books and captured on the “big screen” so effectively. They help bring O’Brian’s books even more alive than they already would have been without the movie.

What is truly amazing about O’Brian is how so totally and completely researched in not just sailing ships of the era and how they are sailed (the lingo alone takes a while to get used to), but also the people, places, cultures, and traditions of an earlier time. Indeed, I would have to say that O’Brian must have lived his life in complete conflict with the age he lived and the age he researched and wrote about so thoroughly.

The books themselves meander – there’s no other way to describe it – through the lives of Aubrey and Maturin in a way that you don’t really get any kind of sense of plot. And yet there is. Even though the events of one book are continued into the next, each could be read as its own standalone novel. To point: even at this point I feel as if I could go back to the first book in the series and feel as if I never really read it all the first time.

Quite simply, these are the among the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read: given all the stresses and strains going on around me and my family these days and this year, they are a welcome distraction in the way they sweep one away to another time and place, so totally and completely different from our own. I so much look forward to working my way through the rest over the second half of the year.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 20:04 | Comments Off on The Gift That Keeps On Giving
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