Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Review of Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1969, HarperCollins)
Master and Commander is the first instalment of the historical nautical series featuring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin which ran to twenty one books. The story tells the tale of the first command of Aubrey, sailing the sloop, Sophie, from Port Mahon in Minorca. O’Brian pays a lot of attention to detail, describing carefully the ship's configuration, the chain of command, and life on board a Royal Navy vessel during the Napoleonic war. Aubrey is modelled on Lord Cochrane and the plot includes many real battles that Cochrane fought whilst commanding HMS Speedy from its Mahon base. Interestingly, there is no real plot arc – there’s no quest that Aubrey and his crew are seeking to fulfil – rather it is almost like a year in the life of a crew, captained by an ambitious commander. For the first one hundred pages, almost nothing happens other than the reader being introduced to the main characters, to the ship, and the wider context. And thereafter, much of the narrative concerns everyday life on board a ship and the interactions of the principal characters, interspersed with naval action as Sophie does battle with various French and Spanish ships, though the story does work its way eventually to a satisfactory denouement. It’s an interesting and informative read, and is written in engaging prose, but would have benefitted in my view with a stronger plot hook.