The Bellinghman (bellinghman) wrote,
The Bellinghman
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13: Patrick O'Brian - Master & Commander

Author: Patrick O'Brian
Title: Master & Commander
Genre: Historical
Published: HarperCollins 2002
Pages: 403
Purchased: Waterstones, Cambridge, 2004-02-26, £7.99
ISBN: 0-00-649915-5

This is the first of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, originally published in 1970 (the dates I give are of the particular edition I read, not of the original) set as the nineteenth century dawns, and inappropriately enough for a story set on the sea, I read it in the city of Basel. Ah well, we rarely read other novels in places much more appropriate, but it amused me that I flew from the strongly maritime UK to the famously non-maritime Switzerland before reading this.

The basic story is fairly simple. Britain is at war with France, and Naval Captain Jack Aubrey is getting his first real command, the sloop Sophie. It's not big, it's not clever powerful, but it's his, and he determines to do his best. Meanwhile, Stephen Maturin, a doctor, is at a loose end, and is persuaded to join as the ship's surgeon. The rest of the novel comprises battles, storms, victories and defeats, and much derring do.

It's pretty enjoyable stuff. Points in particular that I liked were the evocation of the naval base in Minorca - a somewhat less well known place when O'Brian was writing - and the edgy politics around Maturin's past history, for Maturin was involved with the people behind Castlereagh's failed Irish uprising.

Oh, and there's an interesting undercurrent of suppressed homosexuality - not between the main pair despite the slash fiction that abounds, but seafarers have long had a reputation for it, and the author doesn't avoid the subject.

Also, the sheer authentic feel is great - this is true stiff-upper-lippishness in the face of danger, long voyages full of peril, unpleasant food, snobbery, hard work, the whole lot. If I have to make a criticism, it's that Aubrey and his ship are just too good, too competent. But that's a minor niggle, and I'll definitely be reading more. No wonder so many people enjoy them.
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