Monday, March 07, 2011

Master and Commander

By Patrick O'Brian

This is the eighth time I've read this novel and its still brilliant! The humour, the depth of description, the details, they are all just as fresh and lively as if I'd only just bought the book. In point of fact it is now twelve years since I first encountered the fantastic characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin (not to be confused with Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany, especially Bettany).

I previously reviewed this book the last time I read it, in 2006, and my thoughts now echo my thoughts then. The story still seems well written, the characters are easy to empathise with and the plot moves with the urgent lassitude that is the hallmark of a decent plot.

For me, reading these novels again is like returning to a favourite place where old friends receive you with a warm welcome. No other author has ever managed to create a world of the mind which I could enter and re enter so readily. When I was young, I used to lament the fact that 'The Hobbit' was just a book and no matter how hard I yearned for it, I could never cross the Misty Mountains with Bilbo, Gandalf and twelve obstinate dwarves. They would forever live in my mind as static and preserved as insects in amber. As an adult, the Aubrey Maturin books don't quite make me yearn to sail the sea's fighting Napoleon, but I do wish I'd met Patrick O'Brian!

In this, the first book, the story is self contained and the characters are not written with the depth of story telling that follows in the latter books. Consequently there are a few inconsistencies with the later novels, and a lot of the book is written with a need to explain historical context. O'Brian also burns a few bridges along the way, bridges he will later need to rebuild, as the series takes on a life of its own and for this reason, the novel doesn't have the comforting aura of familiarity which settles into existence somewhere during 'Post Captain'. For all that, it reads true and the personality conflicts which arise between the three main characters, with their emphasis on Irish rebellion and the pressures it laces on those who have survived it, is still a most entertaining read. I would recommend this book to any one who has a sense of humour approaching my own.

Post Captain

By Patrick O'Brian

Just as good, if not better than 'Master and Commander', in 'Post Captain' the story of who Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are, matures into being, with a range of supporting characters being introduced and the settled familiarity which will carry the next sixteen novels establishing itself firmly.

O'Brian is said to have taken his inspiration from Jane Austen and this has been remarked upon by a great many critics who see numerous parrallels between the two authors. I can't see this yet as I have yet to read Austen (I have her works on my to-read shelf but I've not yet undertaken the pleasure) so I must accept the learned opinions of others, but I can see certain similarities between the dramatized versions of 'Pride and Prejudice' I've watched (and enjoyed) and 'Post Captain'. Essentially 'Post Captain' has several female characters who seem to be based on several of Austen's female characters, most obviously Mrs Williams who is a carbon copy of Mrs Bennet, only worse!

'Post Captain' has a great many of the rebuilt bridges I refered to earlier. Jack has to lose a portion of his easy going nature as well as all the prize money he won in the first book and Stephen has to suddenly blossom into an intelligence agent rather than a down at heel physician and former Irish rebel. O'Brian manages both of these transformations easily, inserting few contradictions and a great deal of sly mirth and he carries the day by developing a range of well drawn, and entertaining supporting cast, including my favourite Killick.

Its safe to say that age has brought a greater appreciation for Patrick O'Brian, and I enjoyed these books even more than I did in 2006!


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I couldn't agree more... your review reminds me that I still have several books in the series to read.. both a good thing (more to read), and a bad thing (the end of the series)...

moif said...

The end of the series is really sad, both because you can feel how O'Brian was losing his story telling ability as old age took hold of him and because he never got to finish the very last book. I've never bought the last one because I can't bear to read it.