Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I've recently reread Patrick O'Brian's first book in the Aubrey and Maturin series, Master and Commander. As the first in the series it had to be written as more of a stand alone novel than the others as there was no certainty of it being warmly received. In this novel particularly Jack Aubrey's exploits are more strongly based on Lord Cochrane's real life experiences than some of the other novels in the series, particularly the taking of the Cacafuego which is based on the capture of El Gamo. In using Lord Cochrane as a model O'Brian follows a precedent set by Captain Marryat and used by many other writers of naval fiction.

The large number of supporting characters that appear in subsequent books have much less of a bearing upon this novel though some of the characters featured here do go on to appear in many other novels in the series. One of the more frequently used is Master's Mate Mowett whose poetical bent is established and often has the role of explainingnautical terms to Doctor Maturin.

O'Brien is careful to try and evoke the speech of the Georgian age and avoids excessive description though he does need to have passages where nautical terms are explained. This is mainly achieved by having Doctor Maturin, whose only experience of the sea has been as a passenger, recieve explanations from various members of the Surprise's crew. The pacing of the novel is good managing to have several peaks and keep the reader's interest and there is a depth to the characterisation that is not evident in all books of this genre. I would certainly recommend this novel and the series as a whole to other readers.

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