Thursday, January 18

reading: master and commander

By Patrick O'Brian. No longer remember how this landed on my shelf, but it’s been there for a while. Quoth Wikipedia:

The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century. It follows the young Jack Aubrey who has just been promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and Stephen Maturin, a destitute physician and naturalist whom Aubrey appoints as his naval surgeon. They sail in HM Sloop of War Sophie with first lieutenant James Dillon, a wealthy and aristocratic Irishman. …

Master and Commander met with mixed early reviews on its first publication. Although UK sales were respectable enough for O'Brian to continue with his series, it was not initially a success in the US. In Britain and Ireland, however, voices of praise gradually became dominant. In 1990, the US publisher W. W. Norton re-issued the book and its sequels; this was an almost immediate success and drew O'Brian a new, large readership. O'Brian’s biographer has placed the novel at the start of what he called the author’s magnum opus, a series that has become perhaps the best-loved roman fleuves of the twentieth century.

This is the first in a giant series of books about dudes doing stuff on wooden ships with lots of sails and rigging, the complexities of which I am never going to grasp even slightly. There is just an unreal amount of technical exposition about sails and sailing stuff. It’d probably be equally correct to say that it’s about the sailing stuff or to say that it’s about Jack and Stephen being friends while everything is all complicatedly mannered, colonial, and riddled with fucked-up relations of power.

It’s a surprisingly funny, subtle book. I don’t know if I’ll attempt the rest of the series, but I enjoyed this one and I think I can see why people love them so much.

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