Master and Commander, Patrick O'BrianThe seamen, sprawling abroad on the foc’s’le and combing out their long hair or plaiting it up again for one another, kindly explained to the landmen that this long swell from the south and east, this strange sticky heat that came both from the sky and the glassy surface of the heaving sea, and this horribly threatening appearance of the sun, meant that there was to be a coming dissolution of all bonds, an apocalyptic upheaval, a right dirty night ahead. The sailor men had plenty of time to depress their hearers… for this was Sunday afternoon, when in the course of nature the foc’s’le was covered with sailors at their ease, their pigtails undone. Some of the more gifted had queues they could tuck into their belts; and now that these ornaments were loosened and combed out, lank when still wet, or bushy when dry and as yet ungreased, they gave their owners a strangely awful and foreboding look, like oracles; which added to the landmen’s uneasiness.

This is the first of a long series of naval novels set in the nineteenth century and featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin. In it, Aubrey receives promotion from the rank of lieutenant to that of master and commander; is given the command of a King’s ship, the sloop Sophie; and gets to gad about on the Med being by turns heroic and self-absorbed. Meanwhile, Maturin finds himself appointed ship’s physician (a much-needed and well-respected position in a ship of war, where it was not so unusual for a crew to have a butcher or carpenter as its surgeon) and learns a lot very fast about life at sea.

This was a decent enough yarn, but the ending was somewhat anticlimactic and (believe it or not) I have read several better books of this genre. The author seemed unable to stop pointing out how much research he had done about ships and things, and stuffing the narrative with detailed facts that added nothing to the story – especially near the beginning where the device of Maturin knowing nothing about seamanship and everyone feeling the need to explain it all to him is done to death.

And, in any case, there’s only so much in the way of sailing up and down doing heroical warlike things that a person can stand when she’s got a tempting pile of womanist literature to hand that she could be reading instead. Ho-hum.

Amazon link.
My copy from library.