Post Captain

by Patrick O'Brian

Paperback, 1990

Call number




W. W. Norton & Company (1990), Edition: 1st, 496 pages


Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: "We've beat them before and we'll beat them again." In 1803, Napoleon smashes the Peace of Amiens, going to war once again. This is doubly alarming news for Captain Jack Aubrey, who is taking refuge in France from his creditors. He is interned but soon escapes from his French debtor's prison, fleeing across the French countryside to lead a ship into battle. After managing to avert a possible mutiny, he pursues his quarry straight into the mouth of a French-held harbor. Stephen Maturin's struggles, with himself as much as with a proud and intelligent woman, are woven into Aubrey's, straining their friendship at times to the breaking point. The high-seas excitement continues in this second installment of Patrick O'Brian's highly acclaimed series..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ngmoore
Post-Captain is too long and episodic in structure – in this the novel conforms to its over-stuffed 19th century ancestors: Walter Scott, Fenimore Cooper, the Conan Doyle books nobody reads. O’Brian periodically takes a break from battle scenes and descriptions of nautical minutia to focus on a
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romantic sub-plot, a love triangle or quadrangle which puts a strain on the bromance between our heroes, the red-blooded, beef-eating Captain Jack Aubrey and his etiolated, opium-eating ship’s surgeon (also part-time spy and minor Spanish nobility) Stephen Maturin. In a nutshell, both men are love with Diana Villiers, an officer’s widow who’s come to live in the country with her three nice cousins, the Williams’ sisters, and their not-so-nice mother. Stephen Maturin is a rational man – not the same thing as a reasonable one – and his feelings for Diana have an obsessive character, made both better and worse by his consciousness that the attachment is unhealthy. Unhealthy, and futile: Diana’s only interested in Jack, who has decided that he will marry Sophia Williams, a more respectable match than poor Diana, who is, for nebulous but inescapable social reasons, is damaged goods. But this planned marriage runs into trouble, when Jack learns that his prize-agent (the guy who manages his share of the booty from ships captured in war) has mismanaged his money, leaving our Cap’n both broke and threatened with debtors’ prison: a nice girl like Sophia can’t be expected to marry a bankrupt. So Jack breaks off his engagement with Sophia, and while trying to get his shit together again begins an affair with Diana.
Since I know nothing about boats and sailing, the battle scene descriptions, which rely heavily on naval jargon, were sometimes hard for me to follow, though exciting enough when I was reasonable sure I knew what was going on. You will learn things along the way, but even if you still feel totally at sea, har har har, when you reach the last page, you can still enjoy the book, as I did, on the levels of prose style and of period detail, which the well-supplied O’Brian heaps on the reader’s plate with merciless largesse.
In the matter of period detail, O’Brian avoids that fault of much historical fiction, where you get the feeling that the author has put into his characters’ mouths as dialogue things he or she read in a volume of general-interest history. Characters in these books (or movies, or TV shows) spend a lot of time explaining to each other things that would, in reality, have been understood by everyone, and so not discussed by anyone, leaving the reader or viewer with the impression that conversation in the past consisted mostly of clumsy exposition (see, e.g., the first episode of the History Channel’s new series, Vikings, where big chief Gabriel Byrne, presiding over a murder trial, gives a little lecture to the unshaven assembly on the cultural practices which inform Viking criminal law.)
O’Brian’s people, by contrast, may be living through events of world-historical importance, and in a world with very different codes and customs from our own, but they don’t discuss these historically significant events in terms of historical significance, and they don’t explain their beliefs and practices to each other over tea, in language borrowed from the modern social sciences. They don’t do this for the same reason that you or I don’t discuss the news, or our lives, in this way: they can’t, we can’t; perspectives of this kind lie beyond our horizons of daily concern – more than that, they are of necessity false to the richness of lived experience, and of historical causality, however necessary they may be for making sense of the past. O’Brian’s knows the Regency period well enough that he can allow his characters live in this immediate world, and they prefer to talk about the everyday things that actual people prefer to talk about: food, clothes, gossip, the latest music, professional shop.
But O’Brian’s imaginative residency in the era is most apparent in what is really the ultimate period detail, his adept mimicry of a range of vintage-early-19th-century prose styles. He can do De Quincean solipsistic reveries:

So he paced this strange, absolute and silent landscape of firm damp sand with rivulets running to its edge and the lapping sea, eating bread with one hand and cold beef with the other. He was so low to the sea that Deal and its coast were out of sight; he was surrounded by an unbroken disc of quiet grey sea, and even the boat, which lay off an inlet at the far rim of the sand, seemed a great way off, or rather upon another plane. Sand stretched before him, gently undulating, with here and there the black half-buried carcasses of wrecks, some massive, others ribbed skeletons, in a kind of order whose sense escaped him, but which he might seize, he thought, if only his mind would make a certain shift, as simple as starting the alphabet at X – simple, if only he could catch the first clue. A different air, a different light, a sense of overwhelming permanence and therefore a different time; it was not at all unlike a certain laudanum state. Wave ripples on the sand: the traces of annelids, solens, clams: a distant flight of dunlins, close-packed, flying fast, all wheeling together and changing colour as they wheeled.
His domain grew larger with the ebbing of the tide; fresh sandpits appeared, stretching far, far away to the north under the cold even light; islands joined one another, gleaming water disappeared, and only on the far rim of his world was there the least noise – the lap of small waves, and the remote scream of gulls.

Or elegant drawing-room observationalism a la Austen or Thackeray:

She came back to England with a wardrobe of tropical clothes, a certain knowledge of the world, and almost nothing else. She came back, in effect, to the schoolroom, or something very like it. For she at once realized that her aunt meant to clamp down on her, to allow her no chance of queering her daughters’ pitch; and as she had no money and nowhere else to go she determined to fit into this small slow world of the English countryside, with its fixed notions and its strange morality.
She was willing, she was obliged, to take a protectorate, and from the beginning she resolved to be meek, cautious, and retiring; she knew that other women would regard her as a menace, and she meant to give them no provocation. But her theory and her practice were sometimes at odds, and in any case Mrs Williams’s idea of a protectorate was much more like a total annexation. She was afraid of Diana, and dared not push her too far, but she never gave up trying to gain a moral superiority, and it was striking to see how this essentially stupid woman, unhampered by any principle or by any sense of honor, managed to plant her needle where it hurt most.

I wish that O’Brian had written in this elegant, worldly voice more often: the book would have shed some excess pages, and the plot and pacing tightened up, if he had indulged less often his desire to write wind-wave-and-sail prose poems.
So: if you’re a Napoleonic war nerd, or a sailing geek, you probably already know about these books and don’t need my recommendation. If you like good prose and immersive historical fiction, you could choose worse bedside reading than Post-Captain.
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LibraryThing member bragan
I had kind of mixed feelings about Master and Commander, the first book in this series. I found it slow to the point of tedium, but I could see some real promise in it, so I gamely forged ahead to this second book. And, boy, am I glad I did! This one was a lot more readable, and it featured much
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more of the things I actually liked about the first book, mainly the humor and the weirdly wonderful odd-couple friendship between the hearty Captain Jack Aubrey and the scholarly Dr. Stephen Maturin. (My little geeky heart keeps wanting to compare them to Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, although the comparison really only goes so far.) That relationship is increasingly complex and entertaining in this one, strained as it is by the two of them having a conflicted interest in the same woman, and the humor was plentiful and delightful. And, although the plot meanders a lot, it felt like there was a lot more story here than in the first book, and that story was much more interesting. There were still a few places where navally-ignorant me had some trouble following things, but that wasn't nearly as much of a problem as last time. I'm very interested in reading the rest of the series now!
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LibraryThing member rameau
One of my favorite in the series, with Aubrey broke and without a ship. When he does get a ship, it is the recalcitrant Polychrest, a failed experiment. O'Brian was pretty gutsy to take on Austen on her own turf. Also having read this immediately after Emma, Austen seems to be the more
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"contemporary" author because being of that time, she doesn't have to do any work to evoke it.
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LibraryThing member inklingsfan47
I finished this over the summer so a review would be very much lacking at this point, but I'll give my two cents anyway because this is one of my favorite books in the history of Ever.

Firstly, and this is true of all of O'Brian's novels -- the realism of his work is entirely astounding. Never
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before I have felt so 'near to the action', you could say, than when I'm thrown into one of Jack's insane and risky battles. ( Though I must say, the moments of Stephen/Diana interaction are equally terrifying. :P )

Second, the characters could not possibly be more fun to read about. Seriously. The conflicts are incredible and usually quite humorous, like their adventures. Their outrageous, crazy adventures.

See, I should never have done this because now I'm just babbling like a little child in a candy shop. The last thing I wanted to mention -- and then I need to stop, for everyones' sake -- is that O'Brian is one of the wisest writers I have ever read from, and despite the crazy and fun nature of the books, there is much, much more to them then an irresistible knack for adventure.

[ This review was brought to you by too much of a fangirl, with lots of excited facial expressions at the screen and with lots of love. Mostly love. ]
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LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
The second installment of the Aubrey-Maturin chronicles is long, and has the unpredictable, organic rhythm one comes to expect of the books: the small and large concerns chasing each other, defeat crowding upon victory, action on small, daily joys.

This volume brings us deeper into the landed life
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of the two protagonists, and explores new highs and lows in their friendship. It also brings us new ships to love and hate, blazing action, and the difference between the wizened heads of male and female gibbons.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
Jack Aubrey would like to be promoted to Post Captain in HMS. Sadly, due to the lack of war and ships, even if he were promoted, there would be no ship for him to command. So this book finds him on land a lot. His friend, Stephen Maturin is with him for the most part, though missing at times
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without an altogether good explanation of his whereabouts.
Happily, thanks to Napoleon, these two do manage to get on some ships; that is where they are at their best in my opinion. The joy of watching their friendship weather storms worse than nature is very prominent here. I love the very subtle humour throughout. I could have done without the women, and wonder if Mr. O'Brian does a better job with women characters in later books. That being said, I think he wrote them well as characters, I just didn't think much of them. Not good enough for our boys.
The writing style can be very choppy. The author flat out tells you he is going to use a Deus ex machina to accomplish the story, so you can't really complain about that. I am rather fond of happy endings, anyway. I do wish there were a translation of the French, Latin and Spanish phrases, even if you don't need it to understand the story.
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
I did not enjoy this nearly as much as the first book in the series. I have to admit, I found most of the scenes while Jack and Stephen were on land incomprehensible. Apparently 18th century English courting customs are beyond my understanding, as is most of the terminology of daily life. The most
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interesting part was the fact that apparently Jack was so far in debt he was eligible for debtor's prison, but how he evaded it and how he was supposed ot be apprehended was still a confusing muddle. The sailing scenes were great as usual, but they were few and far between.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
In which Aubrey and Maturin first meet Sophia Williams and Diana Villiers, cousins and objects of the sailor's affections. Following Napoleon's renewed hostilities in 1802, Aubrey and Maturin return from France & Spain, and Aubrey is given command of the experimental ship, Polychrest. Aubrey's
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assignment is to patrol the Channel, far from the familiar Mediterranean sea roads and alas, not so far from his pursuing debtors. The ship poses as much a challenge as the enemy. Maturin's intelligence service comes to the fore, often without Aubrey knowing it.
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LibraryThing member Napoleonicus
There are many writers who have tried their hand at the historical novel. Some have achieved a certain amount of success, but few have succeeded on the scale of the likes of Patrick O’Brian, whose star has not faded one bit since his passing 11 years ago. Perhaps that is attributable to the fact
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that there are few names that are so intimately linked to fiction set in the glorious age of sail. C.S. Forester and Alexander Kent are probably the only real competitors to the title of the most famous chronicler of the Royal Navy of the 19th century.

Apart stands this one novel. Post Captain is the second novel in O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. It follows the adventures of Jack Aubrey, a dashing young master and commander and Stephen Maturin, his best friend and ship’s surgeon. Here we follow the pair as they make their way into both career and social advancement, with special attention to the latter.

As the peace of 1802 with Napoleon smoothes out the tensions between England and France, the number of ships necessary to the Royal Navy begins a period of decline and the commands are being awarded to the seniormost officers. Our hero, having only been promoted as ship’s commander the year before, he finds himself one of the many commanders without a ship.

As he takes vacation in rural England and awaits news from his prize agent, the man who handles the sale of the captured ships, he makes the acquaintance of the Williams family and their daughters, of whom Sophie captures his heart. He soon learns that the prize agent had fled to Bordeaux, leaving nothing behind him and that he found himself penniless and unable to settle his affairs on land and in a hefty debt.

The novel explores in detail the intricate inner workings of social interaction in 19th century English society as Captain Aubrey tries to secure a command and make good on his promises to Sophie, while dodging his debtors. Stephen Maturin on the other hand tries his best to juggle between a love interest of his own and the underworld of political intrigue and espionage into which the admiralty has dragged him.

This novel takes place more on land than at sea, and certainly has a different pacing than its predecessor, Master and Commander. That is not to say that there is not plenty of seagoing adventure to be had and enjoyed, but simply that the emphasis here has been put more on the development of the social status of the protagonists. It has earned Post Captain a well deserved reputation of being Patrick O’Brian’s homage to Jane Austen.
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LibraryThing member Larou
Post Captain, the second volume in O’Brians Aubrey-Maturin series, presents a marked improvement over the first volume: While there still is a lot of naval battles and detailed descriptions of maritime life and customs, he is giving a lot more space and (in consequence) depth to his characters,
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giving them a life away from shipboard (it actually takes a hundred pages for our protagonists to first reach the sea in this novel), giving them a history and outlook and even – big gasp here, for this is at its heart still a very male book – romantic relationships. There are still passages where the massed naval jargon forms an impenetrable thicket, but fortunately they are confined to the occasional paragraphs and do not extend over whole pages, seriously hindering the reader’s progress through the novel.

All of this makes Post Captain a thoroughly enjoyable read, and while I do not think that O’Brian has quite found his groove yet, there is a general broadening of scope here, the narrative extending to events on land as on sea, the narrator’s gaze not quite so focused on ships and how they are run but giving room for more general human concerns. The narrative voice still appears a bit tense and cramped compared to the relaxed, almost serene attitude O’Brian will work towards in the next two volumes (which is as far as I got on my first reading of the series), but there already is a certain… camaraderie forming between narrator and reader, which I think might be the hallmark of his writing style.

While O’Brian’s love for the sea and all things naval seeps through every page of this novel, he never unduly romanticises it, he does not gloss over the fact that life on board of a ship of the Royal Navy was extremely harsh and, for all their undeniable excitement, his battle scenes can be quite brutal and never flinch away from the gruesome details. Although one might ask oneself whether O’Brian’s congenial narration is not somewhat counter-productive here – I don’t think there is any doubt that does want to paint the whole picture, but including the sad and ugly parts, but just maybe the narrator is much too comfortable to give much conviction when his tales touch upon human suffering and the occasional tragedy. At this stage, I am still undecided about this myself and will likely come back to that point when discussing later volumes.

In Post Captain it also becomes even more pronounced than in Master & Commander that what makes and drives this series is the unlikely friendship between its two main protagonists. They are very different characters – different from each other, but also full of contradictions in themselves, which is part of what makes them so fascinating – and yet, in some mysterious way they seem to complement each other; and while right now I’m not sure whether I have enough of an interest in the Royal Navy to keep my interest up over twenty volumes of novels, I can actually imagine spending that much time exploring the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
This second book in the series doesn't move along as quickly as Master and Commander did. That might be due to the fact that much of the events occur on land, setting up the relationships between the two men and Sophia and Diana. Clearly these will be important characters in future volumes and,
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therefore, it was necessary to do so. However, the lack of naval action, particularly in the first part of the book, did slow things down a bit as a result...not to the point of dragging, but noticeable.

Still, I definitely enjoyed it and will return for H. M. S. Surprise. As with the first book in the series, they are beautifully written. I particularly like the fact that O'Brian does not dumb down the naval terminology as some other Hornblower-esque series have done; if you don't know what a stud sail is or what made a frigate a frigate in the 18th century, then he leaves it to you to find out.

Though only two books into this series so far, these are definitely on my Recommend list.
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LibraryThing member PeterWhitfield
Plot: 3/5 Not a lot happens compared to some books, like a lull in the main story. Enough to keep you interested though.
World: 5/5 Very interesting and different, most particularly the naval conflict.
Writing: 3.5/5 The language is trial; often I haven't a clue what the characters mean and sometimes
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even who is talking. The perils of period English!
Characters: 3.5/5 The characters are interesting but tend to behave stupidly. It's a bit difficult to know whether that is intended, the period or just shallow characterisation.
All in all quite enjoyable & interesting but not stellar. I'll read the next one ;)
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LibraryThing member denmoir
An excellent follow-up to the first adventure in which the epithet "Lucky Jack Aubrey" begins to turn ironic and love interests are introduced for the two heros.
LibraryThing member JeremyPreacher
I'm glad I didn't read this one in order, because it would have put me off the series. Too much romance, and unsatisfying romance at that.
LibraryThing member Michael.Rimmer
This is one of the few books that, having started, I could not finish and have no intention of returning to.

I enjoyed Master and Commander, and so turned to this book with an expectation of the same, but what I remember getting was a slow-paced, turgid account of two fox-hunting gentleman. I expect
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that had I had the fortitude to plough on through the first 100 pages or so, I would have got to that part of the story where Aubrey and Maturin set out to sea again, and my interest would have been galvanised. I just couldn't bring myself to do so, however, and thus ended my voyaging with the Captain and the Doctor.
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LibraryThing member VVilliam
A fun continuation of the series, although there's quite a lot of romance on land. I found "Master and Commander to be more enjoyable, but this was still very good historical fiction.
LibraryThing member Othemts
The first part of this book sees our heroes Aubrey and Maturin, nowhere near the sea. In fact, it seems that they’ve wandered into a Jane Austen novel as they intrigue with a family of proper young women. Not that I preferred the non-stop battle of the first novel, but I was glad when they
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finally get on a ship and head out to sea. Capt. Aubrey has been brought down a few pegs since the conclusion of Master and Commander and it takes him a bit of blundering to once again prove himself in an attack on a French harbor. This would seem to be the conclusion of the novel as Capt. Aubrey at last achieves the rank of Post Captain, but then it seems as if another story begins – perhaps one not long enough for its own book – with Dr. Maturin oddly playing comic relief. I felt as if this whole book was but a chapter or two in the longer 17 volume opus, rather than a book that stands on its own. I enjoyed reading it, but its disjointed nature made it a struggle to like.
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LibraryThing member tintinintibet
I've been surprised at how compelling these books are -- the writing is certainly not contemporary, the detail of naval warfare unfamiliar and at times confusing, the dialogue even more difficult given the colloquialisms often in use, and I've read less fiction than I used to in recent years -- but
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nonetheless, I read 80 pages a night of this slightly unapproachable period-piece historical fiction and can't help but finish the book once I start. Same thing happened with the first book in the series. I shave a star off because I figure that there are 20 some odd books in the series and we can't start with marks that are TOO high. There's got to be room for improvement.....right?
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Jack finds his fortunes reversed in this second installment. A good portion takes place on land, as Jack tries to avoid debtor prison, imprisonment in France, and a permanent place on land. The relationship between Stephen and Jack continues to deepen. This novel is a good example of the strains
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that women can put on the friendship between two men. Some interesting battles and insight into the delicacy of feeling among the men on a ship.
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LibraryThing member iayork
Patrick O'Brian Fan...: This is the second book a series which is most entertaining to me. There are people who may not like all the information about life on ships and sailing them but the action and the relationships between the characters is totally riviting. I even had to buy the companion
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books, one of which is "A Sea Of Words" to understand what I was reading and laughing at. I don't know if I would sugest reading these books out of order since they are so much fun going from the first to the last.
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LibraryThing member pwoodford
I’ll offer a single review of the late Patrick O’Brian’s twenty Aubrey/Maturin novels. I’ve never read another series of novels so consistently excellent. These sweeping yet personally engaging stories of the British Royal Navy of the early 19th Century are about war, espionage,
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exploration, politics, treason, science, medicine, great and ordinary men and women, friendship, morality . . . the grand themes of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I’ve read the entire series four times. My Christmas present to myself this year was to replace the few remaining paperbacks in my collection with hardbacks, and once they arrive I’ll start reading the series again, in order. Every time I re-read these books I discover they’re not only as good as I remembered, they’re better.
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LibraryThing member firebird013
The second in the Aubrey/Maturin saga; maintains the pace of the first and unfolds the personalities of the key characters in a way that intrigues and always rings true. The action sequences are very gripping and in this book and those that follow O'Brian proves a master of suspense. That said,
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action never dominates and you cannot afford to skip a single paragraph - there is always something to delight in the way the story unfolds or a detail of early 19th century life is given.
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LibraryThing member swampygirl
This series continues to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. Another good audio book option - so you can zone out when it gets somewhat tedious.
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
I was determined to finish this damn book after giving up on Master and Commander, and I did, eventually, but I doubt I will ever read another of the remaining twenty novels in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series. If I were to venture a sexist stereotype of the average O'Brian demographic,
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I would say that I am the wrong gender - and lack a good twenty years of the right age - to really enjoy these books. The dialogue is witty and suitably colourful for a seafaring gentleman and his learned physician friend, and I love O'Brian's unflagging grasp of history and all details nautical, but the characters always seem to come second to the action, so Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin remained thinly-sketched strangers to me throughout most of the book. I did appreciate the 'drawing room' scenes with Diana and Sophia, which were very reminiscent of Austen, but even then I nearly missed why Maturin was so upset with Jack's behaviour. O'Brian has this infuriating knack of skimming vaguely over minor events in his narrative, unless recounting battles, so that a lot can be imported - and missed - in a line or two. That, and I kept nodding off mid-chapter, which is another reason why I took so long to reach the end. I know that Mr O'Brian - and C.S. Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower series, which I also considered reading - have a loyal league of readers, but the nautical terms and the constant battle scenes completely lost me, I'm afraid. I couldn't even cheat and watch the film adaptation of Master and Commander to get my bearings, because I can't stand Russell Crowe! I think I'll retire to the drawing room, and keep to Jane Austen's land-based perspective of the early nineteenth century!
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LibraryThing member repb
Stuck at home - libraries, etc. closed - I was happy to have this to read. I wish I had checked out a few more in the series. Well - I enjoyed it but still found it difficult to read/understand - different phraseology, strange words and sentence structure, etc. Still I got the gist of what was
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going on and look forward to #3 in the series.
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