Sunday, August 09, 2009

Two Years Before the Mast

Following up on this omnibus review of several books of The Canon, here are the last few installments of the massive Patrick O'Brian-authored series of sea tales that have occupied so much of my interest for so many years.

Patrick O'Brian; The Hundred Days (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1999; cover by Geoff Hunt).

Having ended the war with the previous book, Jack and Stephen end up in the thick of things again as Napoleon escapes from his exile/prison. The thing that struck me oddest about this volume was the juxtaposition of two deaths. Stephen loses someone close to him before the start of the action and spends a lot of time thinking on it. Jack loses someone close to him near the end of the action, but as it is in the midst of a battle, hardly bats an eyelash. The first death (Stephen) was gradually accepted, due to the pacing of how it was considered. The second death (Jack) sat not at all well, given the way it was presented (an eyeblink) and considered (hardly at all).

Patrick O'Brian; Blue at the Mizzen (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2000; cover by Geoff Hunt).

With Napoleon finally (heh) bottled up, Jack and Stephen can proceed on their "hydrographical expedition" (mapping plus revolutionary stirring) to South America. A complex plot of moves and counter-moves, changing alliances and orders complicates things. Making the best of the shifting sands, the action is called back overseas when a letter arrives. Jack has been made an Admiral of the Blue and will next command a fleet.

Patrick O'Brian; 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2004; cover by Geoff Hunt).

A fragment, alas. O'Brian was only a few chapters (drafts at best) into the next volume (which would have taken Jack to his command near South Africa, and presumably would have taken Stephen closer to his fiance) when it all ends...

I titled this posting Two Years Before the Mast because I read these books, end-to-end, during two years (I could have gone through faster, but there are so many other books!). Amazing books, even having been read (some volumes) eight or more times since I first found them. I'm not sure if these would be my sole choice for a deserted isle, but they very might well be. Fantastic writing, amazing stories, wonderful characters, the food, the music...and...the sea. The eternal sea.

Where now, Columbus? I have several non-fiction books set in and around the era of The Canon. I have a couple of other O'Brian books, including two sea tales written before this series. Maybe a visit to Neal Stephenson and his Baroque Cycle, along with the non-fiction books I've collected for that series. Harry Flashman, maybe? We shall see!

No comments: