Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Surgeon's Mate

By Patrick O'Brian

"We are singing about glory, sir", said the Admiral to Colonel d'Ullastret. "There is no better subject for a song," said the Colonel. "Far more suitable than whining about some woman. I am a great friend to glory".

Resuming the story directly from the previous novel, TSM begins with a dash across the Atlantic and then proceeds via a mission in the Baltic, to a French prison. The story neatly rounds off the 'American side track' and brings us back to the best of enemies, the good old French. Most of the novel is again taken up with Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey is virtually a passenger, becoming almost as superfluous as their new comrade Jagiello (a Swedish officer with whom our friends are imprisoned).

A lot happens in this novel, and though it lacks the gravity of the previous book, there is still plenty to occupy the mind. The best parts of the book for me, as with the series, is when the story moves around all the characters and not just Stephen Maturin. O'Brian was often criticised for making Maturin too clever by half, and when you read this and the previous books, its easy to see why. Maturin is also often described as being O'Brian's alter ego, and maybe there is some truth to that.

There is plenty of humour in this story though, and as I read, I chortled merrily though I've read it all so many times before.

The Ionian Mission

By Patrick O'Brian

"Pipped on the post," cried the Admiral. "Poor Aubrey, beat by half a nose. But never mind; you did very well for a cove of your uncommon size. And it has clawed some of the jam off your back, hey? Given you an appetite, hey, hey?"

Now we really get going! Here is the novel that 'The Mauritious Campaign' tries to be, with all the wealth of description and wit O'Brian could command, coupled with a story that doesn't grow Byzantine in its complexities and which doesn't leave you with confusion as to which ships are which. There is no compression of time here, nor is there any doubt as to who is who or what their motivations are. Jack and Stephen are treated with an equal measures of emphasis and the story fairly drives foward on a steady course.

Treason's Harbour

By Patrick O'Brian.

Abruptly his cheerful faced jerked upwards - his chest and shoulders shot clear of the water. A long dark form could be seen below him and while his face still looked up, his wide open mouth uttering an enormous cry, he was shaken from side to side with inconceivable ferocity and he vanished in a great boil of water.

Every bit as good as 'The Ionian Mission', this novel carries on with Jack and Stephen in the Eastern Mediterranean, following up on the dark and treacherous plot laid in the previous book, and taking the two friends ever deeper into the dark pit of fate, Little do they realise what is waiting for them, and it is a pleasure to read how the characters deal with the unforessen events which continually beset them with misfortune.

In this book, the previously minor character of Andrew Wray returns as a principal actor, and for the first time in the series, O'Brian provides Stephen and Jack with a formidable opponent. Wray is the traitor of the title, which is no spoiler as it is made clear from the moment he arrives, and his movements and motivations set the scene for Jack and Stephen's dramatic misfortunes.

All previous book reviews

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