The Far Side of the World

by Patrick O'Brian

Paperback, 2012



Call number




Harper Perennial (2012), Edition: Re-issue, 400 pages


The War of 1812 continues, and Jack Aubrey sets course for Cape Horn on a mission after his own heart: intercepting a powerful American frigate outward bound to play havoc with the British whaling trade. Stephen Maturin has orders of his own in the world of secret intelligence. Disaster in various guises awaits them in the Great South Sea and in the far reaches of the Pacific: typhoons, castaways, shipwrecks, murder, and criminal insanity.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Another exciting and interesting installment in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Jack earns his "Lucky Jack" epithet again in this tale. Mr. O'Brian makes it appear that the ocean is a rather smaller thing than one would think - shipwrecked sailors find their way back to the ocean and can make do with
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just a few tools in their quest to build boats.
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LibraryThing member iayork
Unexpected plot twists and delightful travelogue make this my favorite O'Brian novel so far: I am working through Patrick O'Brian's famed Aubrey-Maturin series in order, and am both proud and sad to say that I've reached the midway point with Book 10, "The Far Side of the World." But it is without
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reservation that I say that this is my favorite novel in the series so far.

Part of that enjoyment stems directly from my enjoyment of first nine books in this series - this is not an example of one sterling novel in a series of sub-par efforts. Rather, I appreciate "Far Side" for the new directions where O'Brian is willing to take the characters he has established so well.

The first nine novels can be safely broken down into "Aubrey novels" or "Maturin novels". The "Aubrey novels" have plots that follow the personality of Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey - they are action packed, with taut sea-chases and horrific broadsides. "Master & Commander" and "The Mauritius Command" fall into that category. The "Maturin novels," on the other hand, focus their plots on Dr. Stephen Maturin and his spy-games. "The Surgeon's Mate" is one of these novels. While all the novels feature the classic O'Brian love of language, their plots tended to focus on one over the other.

"Far Side" takes a new tack, as in this novel Aubrey is charged with tracking down an American frigate, the "Norfolk," that is harrassing British whalers in the Pacific. So there is lots of sailing - they have to get to the Far Side of the World, after all. O'Brian reveals himself as a travel writer of surpassing skill as he describes the wild sights that enchant the naturalist Maturin, including the Galapagos Islands. For the nature-lovers in O'Brian's cast of characters, the thought of spying a new type of beetle is just as romantic a notion as encountering a pod of eighty-ton sperm whales.

In addition to some spectacular travel writing, O'Brian musters up fights, murder, mayhem, shipwrecks, and even the sub-plot of Aubrey and Maturin winding up lost at sea, only to be rescued by seafaring Polynesian/Amazonians. The novel twists and turns, but always seems both plausible and restrained. Look for a lot of humor and touch-and-go action in this novel, and the novel's conclusion is highly satisfying and yet leaves one panting for Book 11, "The Reverse of the Medal."

Be warned - despite its title, this is not the sole O'Brian novel that was used to make the fantastic Peter Weir movie, "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World." That movie borrowed several plots and ideas from many different novels in the entire series - you will surely recognize some of them in this book, but not all. For fans of the movie, this is a good thing - it will encourage you to read all the other novels as well. And you will be glad you did.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Read this one in Bermuda in the throes of a gale, with the wind howling, palms rustling, and the flag stretched straight out almost all day. There's something about reading an Aubrey-Maturin book within sight of the sea that just brings the words to life. Here we find our duo dispatched far into
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the reaches of the Pacific in search of an American warship sent to harry the English whalers. With a crack crew of sailors on the Surprise (plus a few former mutineers and lunatics thrown in for good measure), they're off to the "far side of the world," which several much-too-brief and always-cut-short stops for "botanizing" along the way.

With the usual good humor, surprises and rollicking good adventure that characterizes the series, a well done book (though I confess I was a bit surprised that a few plot threads that I expected would go somewhere ended up not amounting to a whole lot).
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LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
The Far Side of The World, Patrick O’Brian’s tenth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, picks up shortly after the events of Treason’s Harbour, with Captain Jack Aubrey tasked to take the HMS Surprise into the whaling waters around Cape Horn to protect British whalers from the USS Norfolk,
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tasked by the American Navy to harry British industry in those waters. Dr. Stephen Maturin, meanwhile, longs to see the natural specimens unique to that environment, particularly those of the Galapagos Islands, though, as Jack reminds him, the promise to stop there is “subject to the requirements of the service” (pg. 216). O’Brian also uses the novel to further explore the peculiarities of life at sea, including the belief in a Jonah, the intrigues that sailors – and, in certain circumstances, their wives – get up to, and the alternating existence between predation and ease. The extensive summary of whaling recalls Melville’s Moby Dick and, in his Author’s Note, O’Brian admits to cribbing William Hickey’s description of a storm’s first aspect as he felt Hickey’s “words did not seem capable of improvement” (pg. ix).

This same note is where O’Brian first explicitly acknowledged that this novel exists outside the normal flow of time – this novel being the fourth of twelve to exist in what O’Brian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813. Like his previous novels, O’Brian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic War in 1812, using Aubrey’s nostalgia at the coming retirement of the Surprise to view the life aboard ship, particularly aboard this idealized ship, through rose-colored glasses and with a sentimentality that will delight his readers. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes. This novel leant its title to Peter Weir’s 2003 adaptation of the series, which borrowed elements from multiple books, including Master and Commander, HMS Surprise, The Letter of Marque, and The Fortune of War.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Whopping good sea story of the chase after an American man-of-war. (JAB)
LibraryThing member jolyonpatten
One of the weaker books in the series - which still makes it better than much else. Not vintage O'Brian.
LibraryThing member mpontius
Book 10 in the Jack Aubry series. By far, my favorite! Aubry and Maturin are dispatched to the western coast of South America aboard the HMS Surprise just before the ship is to be taken out of service. Many fine adventures, and they become marooned twice! Very enjoyable!
LibraryThing member Harlan879
This is the 2nd M&C book I've read, after the 1st in the series. I was disappointed in some ways. As before, the writing and the characters are great, really enveloping you in the world of the early 19th-century British navy. But I was quite taken aback by some of the offensive caricatures of
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Polynesians and women in this book, caricatures that are due to Mr. O'Brien, not to the characters in the book. It also felt like Mr. O'Brien was stretching for drama in the plot in a not very convincing manner.

(It doesn't affect my review, but just a note that the plot has almost nothing to do with the film, which is substantially better than this novel.)
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LibraryThing member Othemts
The tenth book of the Aubrey/Matrin series finds the HMS Surprise rounding Cape Horn and sailing the Pacific in search of an American ship harassing whalers, the Norfolk. This book is one of the main sources for the film Master and Commander: Far Side of the World although there are some huge
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differences. I have to say I liked the movie better although I usually like the one I saw/read first.
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LibraryThing member paakre
The Far Side of the World

Maturin and Aubrey go to the far side of the world, around the southern tip of South America, out to the pacific, and on their way, they are castaways, and at the mercy of castrating Amazons. Why did I not find this offensive? Is it because Maturin understands why they are
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so angry at men? Is it because the women are such great sailors? This book has a potentially melodramatic bit of plotting having to do with a jealous husband and his wife but the lurid scenes take place off shore and out of our sight.

Yet again, Maturin and Aubrey prove their undying love for each other in manly ways that could only occur in the 19th century on the high seas. Thoroughly gripping, and enjoyable, and not without some moments of medical gore.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
In which Aubrey and Maturin lead Surprise on an unexpected trip into the South Atlantic, aiming to prevent the American frigate Norfolk from harassing British whalers. Maturin with privileged intelligence on a cache of paper currency aboard a sister ship, Aubrey knows only of gold: an opportunity
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for another misinformation campaign as proved useful in Malta? Confronting them are both an unreliable sea and a dicey crew: the able Surprises are joined by a mutinous complement dispersed from Defender, a group of rescued whalers, and a Jonah.


Stephen's witticism regarding the only proper name for a bosun's cat: Scourge (K III). The device of a letter written to Diana, relaying events which occur offstage, only to throw it away as "all the wrong tone". O'Brian is creative in his use of the epistolary form throughout the canon.

Stephen falls down an open grating onto a heap of coals while avoiding "the most pretentious cat I have ever seen", and later suffers concussion & coma during a heavy blow (yet avoids trepanning at the hand of an overly eager Mr Butcher). Chapter VIII is a set-piece confection, with Stephen pulled out the taffrail window, ensnared in his own net. He is saved only by Jack's quick thinking, swimming & navigation skill, and a prodigious amount of luck. Comic relief, yes, but also affording O'Brian a chance to discuss sailing and sea life elsewise missing from life aboard a naval vessel.

Pullings joins as volunteer 1st lieutenant, still without commission and not likely to get one without such a distinction in his career. Mowett serves again: will either be commended officially for their contributions?

Theme of cuckoldry continues, with Hollum's and Mrs Horner's affair intertwined with Stephen's continued distraction over Diana. Stephen has written to Diana, but in ignorance entrusts Wray with its delivery. That all will end in tears seems spelled out in the character of Mr Horner.

O'Brian first avoids a melodramatic confrontation in wrecking the Norfolk, then resuscitates melodrama by stranding Surprises alongside hostile Norfolks with tensions building. The genre game is wrapped up neatly via a beautifully concise ending (typically of O'Brian, almost entirely void of detail after such a precise build-up) with the sudden arrival of the American whaler ... chased by Surprise.


O'Brian in an author's note introduces the notion of "hypothetical years" to account for the duration of what seems officially to occur all in a "repeating year" (Sulzer) of 1813. Has the War of 1812 actually ended, as Capt Palmer claims, is it a ruse, or a case of mistaken intelligence?
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
Captain Aubrey of the British Royal Navy is sent to the South Seas to prevent the American frigate Norfolk from harassing English whalers. It's an excellent book all around, but there are moments of pure perfection in it. The prim parson Martin shows Maturin the letter he wants to woo his lady-love
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with, it's horrifyingly bad, Maturin tries to tell him so as gently as possible, and Martin completely refuses to hear it. Or at one point Maturin falls out of the cabin window while Aubrey is talking. Aubrey immediately realizes what happens and, without a moment's hesitation, dives in after him, for Maturin is so uncoordinated that he could drown in only an inch of water. Later, upon finding entering the cabin and finding both Aubrey and Maturin missing, their shipmate immediately knows that Maturin fell out of the ship and Aubrey went after him. And of course the ending is basically the best ending of all endings in the entire world. In order to secure the shipwrecked Norfolk's people, Captain Aubrey lands his gig on a small island surrounded by reefs and dangerous tides. The tides mean he can't get back to the Surprise that night, and in the morning he can't see the ship at all. The Norfolk crew assures him that the Surprise has definitely wrecked, and Aubrey is afraid they're right. At least a week goes by without sighting any ship, but then he sees an American whaler coming toward the island. Aubrey knows that if the whaler picks them up, he and his men will be imprisoned, and so he works at brutal speed to get his little gig sea-worthy. But the Norfolk's men destroy his gig at the last moment (I was so angry at this point I was practically weeping with rage), and Aubrey is without hope. The whaler is close enough to hail--and THEN! STUFF HAPPENS! VERY EXCITING STUFF!

I will note that this book contains Maturin once again refusing to help a woman have an abortion. It's a particularly bad situation because he's pretty sure that her sterile husband will kill her once he finds she's pregnant. And lo and behold, her husband does indeed kill her. Your principles sure did help, huh Maturin? If the vaunted spy-master really wanted to save lives, surely he could have come up with SOMETHING besides just letting this teenager go back to her abusive husband and waiting till he kills her. He couldn't come up with a medical lie, like she's suffering from dropsy? Or ask his "particular friend" Captain Aubrey to put the abusive husband on a treasure ship or something? gah! My frustration with him was mitigated somewhat when, later in the novel, he goes on a several minute tirade about how shitty the patriarchy is for women. But still. Maturin, get your shit together.
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LibraryThing member bragan
This is book 10 in Patrick O'Brain's Aubrey-Maturin series. It's also the basis for the 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (hence the picture of Russell Crowe on the cover of my copy). I did see the movie when it came out, but I can't say how faithful an adaptation it was,
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as I remember almost nothing of the plot, although I do remember liking it well enough.

I have slightly more mixed feelings about the novel, but I'm starting to think that my reactions to the books in this series may say a lot more about my mood while reading them than about the books themselves. I think I remarked on the previous book, Treason's Harbour, that it seemed like a shining example of O'Brian's complete inability (or perhaps unconcern) with any kind of reasonable pacing, but I found it a very pleasant read, anyway. But, then, I read it on some nice, pleasant days. With this one, I spent the first 200 pages or so just feeling incredibly impatient and annoyed with the lack of anything interesting happening, but I enjoyed the second half much, much better. Is that because there were more interesting incidents in the back half, and a few amusing instances of Stephen Manurin being entertainingly Stephen Maturin-ish to keep me engaged? Maybe. Or maybe it's just because I was less sleep-deprived and stressed while reading that than I was in the beginning. It's hard to say, really, but I am nevertheless making a note to myself not to pick one of these up again while I'm in the middle of working extra night shifts.

Mind you, I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the very ending, which was interesting, but rather startlingly abrupt. Eh, well. Let's just say that, overall, this one gave me a better reading experience than I initially thought it was going to, but not quite as good a one as I might hope for.
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LibraryThing member malcrf
Typically excellent @Brian/Aubrey excellent characterisation, vivid prose, compelling page-turning plot. What more could you want?
LibraryThing member shirfire218
The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian is a very enjoyable seafaring novel featuring colleagues and friends Captain Jack Aubrey and ship's surgeon, natural philosopher and spy Stephen Maturin. This book is the tenth in the Aubrey-Maturin series. It is the first book in the series that I have
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read (indeed the first Patrick O'Brian book I have read at all), and I found it to be thoroughly satisfying as a stand alone novel.

While the HMS Surprise is nearing the end of her life and was expected to be broken up, instead Aubrey is assigned to take her 'round the Horn in pursuit of the USS Norfolk, an American ship pursuing and destroying British whalers. Aubrey must make haste to put together a crew from scratch which he just manages to do, not always able to use as much discretion as he might like. The adventures begin immediately including the drama of an affair of a midshipman with the master gunner's young wife who becomes pregnant. Maturin refuses to perform an abortion so she receives a botched one at the hands of the barber and very nearly dies. That escalates into further tragedy.

One escapade follows another and the ship is battered by extreme weather events again and again. Stephen Maturin experiences one mishap after the other, as well; dragging the Captain along with him. After Stephen falls off the deck into the sea, Captain Aubrey jumps in after him and just when it seems all hope is lost for them, they are saved by a group of Polynesian women in a pahi. From there they are stranded on a small island and miraculously end up being saved by a launch from The Surprise.

The Surpise is then battered by a typhoon, in which Stephen Maturin is thrown down and hits his head putting him in a coma. Captain Aubrey, Mr. Martin (the chaplain and a natural philosopher) and some of the crew take the unconscious man ashore so that the Norfolk's physician, Dr. Butcher, can perform trepanning on him. Fortunately, before the slightly too eager Dr. Butcher can start the operation, Stephen awakens on his own and is saved from that risky procedure. In the meantime, stormy weather has blown The Surprise away and Aubrey, Maturin, Martin and the crew that has accompanied them are temporarily stranded. Tensions have broken out between the "captured" Norfolk crew and the Surpise crew because it turns out most of the Norfolks' crew consists of mutineers and deserters and will be hanged upon their return. This creates a very dangerous situation for those from The Surprise. A whaler is spotted on the horizon and those from the Norfolk believe they are saved, but it turns out to be The Surprise in disguise and the day, and the mission is saved for Captain Aubrey and crew.

The seafaring jargon is addicting and the story quite enjoyable. The conversations revolving around the natural history phenomena along the route between Stephen and Mr. Martin are my favorite part of the book.
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