Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Wine Dark Sea

By Patrick O'Brian
Presently it was no more than broken men, escaping below, screaming as they were hunted down and killed: and an awful silence fell, only the ships creaking together on the dying sea, and the flapping of empty sails.

Of all the series, this is my least favourite I think. Although it bucks the trend of the series by being fatter than the others, which get thinner and thinner as O'Brian aged, this book reads almost like a last gargantuan effort to wrap up a story that had grown into a monster. The first half the book is fair enough; still in the South Pacific Jack Aubrey continues along his way, chasing down a pirate and capturing a French political revolutionary, but then the story reaches South America and things get rather dull. Stephen wanders around the Andes, visiting yet more Catholic priests and assorted Irish men and eventually getting wounded as he has done so many times before.

It isn't that I dislike the character, but there is a certain uneasiness about Stephen Maturin. A sense that he is just too good, too much of an expert doctor, surgeon, naturalist, zoologist, ornithologist, code writer, linguist, swordsman, marksman and intelligence agent. That he is also uncommonly lucky in cards, has friends and family connections from the British Court, to the Baltic Sea to the Iberian peninsula and to Peru, that animals and children take to him easily, that great wealth simply falls into his lap... well its all just a bit too much at times.

The fact is, its Jack Aubrey who is the hero and Stephen Maturin is the side kick, and the books are most alive when both of them are together. O'Brian didn't seem to think this though, or maybe he didn't care or agree with it, because he often dumps Jack at sea and lets Stephen roam the land by himself. Sometimes this works, but in this particular book it drags.

No comments: