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  • Writer's pictureMaree

2 Min Book Review: Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

The Good

-Master and Commander is the first in a long series of novels (21) set around the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and based on the life of Thomas Alexander Cochrane (1775-1860). It is built upon the friendship of naval officer, Jack Aubrey and physician, Stephen Maturin.

-If you’re looking for something with a lot of maritime history, you’ve found it. O’Brian can’t seem to help but share his detailed knowledge. It is easy to become immersed in the world. Maturin, being new to sailing, appears like an excellent opportunity for O’Brian to share this knowledge.

-O’Brian was known to have regarded personalities rather than principles, politics or warfare to be paramount in his ‘tales’, and this is evident. It was much quirkier than I thought it would be, and there were so many randomly funny moments or comments. There were many humorous parts, especially poking fun at Aubrey’s weight, Maturin’s specific interest in praying mantis mating rituals or a letter describing the punishment for a man’s unmentionable actions with a goat.

-Maturin’s diary entries are especially interesting to read.

-There was constant action.

-It was a wonderful start to Aubrey and Maturin’s friendship. Music drew them together, and it was so lovely to have later scenes with the two playing their own music together.

-The settings were so intriguing (e.g. Port Mahon) that I looked some of them up.

-I’m very much looking forward to continuing the series and getting to know Aubrey and Maturin more so along with them on their adventures.

The Bad

-The chapters were very long. Page 236 was the start of Chapter 8. I usually don’t mind, but this did seem a little too long.

- Many of the character’s actions were mentioned as part of the dialogue. I really like the idea of this, but it seemed to interrupt the flow of the speech in my mind.

- I love that O’Brian brought out the historic aspect through his writing style, but it was so rich that I read it better in small bursts rather than long sessions. Also, things tended to jump quickly from one thing to another, so the reader needs to be able to concentrate properly.


“And think of our poor doctor, all alone among them damned trees – why, there might be owls.”

“Stephen could remember an evening when he had sat there in the warm, deepening twilight, watching the sea; it had barely a ruffle on its surface, and yet the Sophie picked up enough moving air with her topgallants to draw a long straight whispering furrow across the water, a line brilliant with unearthly phosphorescence, visible for a quarter of a mile behind her. Days and nights of unbelievable purity. Nights when the Ionian breeze rounded the square mainsail- not a brace to be touched, watch relieving watch- and he and Jack on deck, sawing away, sawing away, lost in their music, until the falling dew untuned their strings. And days when the perfection of dawn was so great, the emptiness so entire, that men were almost afraid to speak.”

“Mr Babbington,' he said, suddenly stopping in his up and down. 'Take your hands out of your pockets. When did you last write home?' Mr Babbington was at an age when almost any question evokes a guilty response, and this was, in fact, a valid accusation. He reddened, and said, 'I don't know, sir.' 'Think, sir, think,' said Jack, his good-tempered face clouding unexpectedly...'Never, mind. Write a handsome letter. Two pages at least. And send it in to me with your daily workings tomorrow. Give your father my compliments and tell him my bankers are Hoares.' For Jack, like most other captains, managed the youngsters' parental allowance for them. 'Hoares,' he repeated absently once or twice, 'my bankers are Hoares,' and a strangled ugly crowing noise made him turn. Young Ricketts was clinging to the fall of the main burton-tackle in an attempt to control himself, but without much success.”

4.5 Stars

Read: April 2019

Published: 1970


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