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Not What I'd Hoped to Find

  • Apr 29, 2001
  • by
Rating:
+2
Fascinated by the hoopla surrounding Mr. O'Brian's wildly successful series and being a lover of historical fiction myself, I was drawn to this one. I first picked up and tried THE WINE DARK SEA, which is much later in the series. But I was a little put off by its very dry style and slow-moving pace. Still, I figured that with all the excitement about these books there must be more to them than I found in WINE. So I tried this one, MASTER AND COMMANDER, which is the first in the series and the beckoning portal for all Aubrey/Maturin fans.

Well, I found this one a bit better than WINE but, I must admit, I am still confused about all the fuss for these books. Here is a tale of two men who become friends aboard a small war ship in the shadow of the Napoleonic War. Neither individual is particularly vividly drawn though we do get a sense, albeit at some remove, of their very different personalities. We also see the very strained and formal aspects of interpersonal communications which O'Brian plainly saw as reflective of the tone of that day (though it is less clear to me that people were quite as stuffy and tightly drawn as he makes them out to be).

The events recounted are mainly episodic, too, amidst lots of "period" social gatherings and somewhat stuffy conversations. The characters are indeed interesting . . . to a point. But the tale, in the end, is just not structured tightly enough to suit me -- not a criticism in itself, to be sure, but a lack which, in my opinion, ought to be offset by something else: the strong interplay of personalities, powerfully wrought scenic backdrops, brilliantly soaring prose, a deep cultural tension, etc, etc. A good book can be good for many reasons and all or any of the foregoing can provide such reasons. Unfortunately, this book has none of these to offset its loosely structured narrative.

On the other hand, it does have a lot of nautical jargon, if you like that sort of thing, and a feel for the language of the period, though even this is rendered in a somewhat prosaic manner. And there are a few quite respectable battle scenes though these are not very clearly drawn either. In fact, there is very little sense here of the war at all. (Though this, alone, may be truest to the slower pacing of warfare on the high seas of that day.) In the end, this book, I suppose, gets its good name for the sense of authenticity it affords those who are fascinated by nineteenth century mores in war and peace and on the high seas. ... I want to say at once that I have the utmost respect for the man, as an author who was plainly dedicated to his art. And I also imagine that there must be more to these books than I am seeing since so many readers can't be so utterly wrong. But, frankly, I have concluded that these books are just not for me and that, just possibly, and I say this with great hesitation as I am an author myself, the emperor, in this case, may be in need of a new tailor.

SWM

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More Master and Commander (book) reviews
review by . October 14, 2008
Surprisingly adult sea story--at least based on my expectation that it was going to be geared to young boys--that is the first of a long series and was the basis for a major Hollywood production in 2003. Captain Jack Aubrey is a warts-and-all hero who is heroic not in spite of but because of his quirks. Ship's Surgeon Stephen Maturin is his land-hugging friend and confidante who goes to sea to eat (he's unemployed and broke) and proves a fun foil for Aubrey and crew with his incredible naivete about …
review by . October 07, 2010
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review by . February 20, 2007
C. S. Forester, Beat to Quarters.  Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander  I've begun reading C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels for the fourth or fifth time and I'm enjoying them almost as much as the first time through. Last year, I read about half of Patrick O'Brian's stunning Aubrey-Maturin sea novels for a second time: they didn't lose a thing in the rereading, they're so good. Both authors knew their subject matter thoroughly -naval battle in the age of sail, the …
review by . February 20, 2007
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review by . October 07, 2006
Oh my. Over two hundred reviews and not one obviously done by a person of the female persuasion. What gives? You would think this wasn't chic-lit. Okay, so maybe it isn't a book about traveling jeans and romance, but this is the beginning of a great series that has been described rather well by august reviewers much lower down in the ratings than I, so I won't drone on.     What I will note is that if you are a demon for detail there is about as much here as a soul could want. …
review by . July 20, 2006
I like history. I like details. I like a good story and good character developement. This work gave me each of these likes. The book is well written and just as importantly, well researched. The naval terms of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds can be rather daunting, but as the work progressed, and I bothered to actually research some of them, I found this novel to be a wealth of information. Those who are looking for a "bang, bang, shoot-em-up, fifty killings per page" should probably look elsewhere. …
review by . September 28, 2002
I first saw mention of this faux historical series by Patrick O'Brian in the Common Reader catalog. Faux historical? I guess that's what to call it. O'Brian is historically realistic while using entirely fictional main characters, who may meet and interact with real historical figures. This is different from novels such as Robert Graves' I, Claudius or the Alexander novels of Mary Renault. While O'Brian's characters may not have the basis that Graves' or Renault's do, I wonder if he perhaps is the …
About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #231
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Wiki

Since Patrick O'Brian launched his series of historical novels with Master and Commander in 1970, millions of readers have enjoyed the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin. O'Brian's prose, so immediate and yet so distinctly capturing the language and culture of the English navy in the first moments of the 19th century, rolls effortlessly off the tongue of actor Robert Hardy. Never for a second do we doubt that this is the way an English naval officer would have expressed himself in 1800, and that these are the sights, sounds, and emotions he encountered.
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Tags

Books, Historical Fiction, Patrick Obrian

Details

ISBN-10: 0393307050
ISBN-13: 978-0393307054
Author: Patrick O'Brian
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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