Sunday, February 08, 2009

Book 3 – Master and Commander

By Patrick O’Brian

It’s too bad this wasn’t considered a book club pick since four 50-bookers have read it this year so far, and it’s an awesome book. Perhaps it should, mmm?

Despite the common complaint from readers of the constant looking up of nautical terms that filled up the book, I didn’t mind this so much. First, I didn’t bother looking up anything at all, and I still managed to enjoy and appreciate the adventures of Captain Aubrey and his merry 80-odd member crew. Besides I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what a cunt-splice was anyway. And yet the attentive description of ships, especially the lovingly imperfect Sophie, who is like a character in herself, didn’t seem fetishistic at all!

So anyway, since Olman has read it. And June23 has read it. And last but not least, Buzby has read it -- and since we all know M & C has the action, adventure, naval politics and male-bonding that has already won die-hard fans the world over -- I thought instead of writing a standard review, lemme tell you some of my favourite little moments from Master & Commander:

• When Captain Jack Aubrey was just promoted, given charge of the Sophie and made the realization that his new life as master & commander would be a lonely one:

he was no longer one of ‘us’: he was ‘they’. Indeed, he was the immediately-present incarnation of ‘them’. In his tour of the brig he had been surrounded with deference – a respect different in kind from that accorded to a lieutenant, different in kind from that accorded to a fellow human-being: it had surrounded him like a glass bell, quite shutting him off from the ship’s company…

• When Jack was having a bad day, experiencing a non-stop “series of disappointments”, which included

Ellis’ horrible parents had not yet left the island, and he and Stephen had been obliged to undergo their hospitality – the only occasion in his life he had ever seen a half bottle of small white wine divided between four. Disappointments.

• Stephen Maturin not able to lose his frugal habits due to his period of poverty:

With intense mortification he saw that the piece of meat he had hidden at yesterday’s dinner had oozed grease through his handkerchief and his pocket. ‘How wonderfully strange,’ he thought, ‘to be upset by this trifle; yet I am upset.’ He sat down and ate his piece of meat (the eye of mutton chop)…

• Dr Maturin’s various idiosyncratic thoughts and quips about…

…older men of authority:

James Dillon was a delightful being. Now he is closing in. It is odd – will I say heart-breaking? – how cheerfulness goes: gaiety of mind, natural free-springing joy. Authority is its great enemy – the assumption of authority. I know few men over fifty that seem to me entirely human: virtually none who has long exercised authority. The senior post-captains here; Admiral Warne. Shrivelled men (shriveled in essence: not, alas, in belly).

… whether the progeny of an annoying, upper class couple will take after them:

’And having seen the parents I am impatient to see this youth, the fruit of their strangely unattractive loins: will he be a wretched mammothrept? A little corporal?…’

… Captain Aubrey and Lieutenant James Dillon (JA and JD) not quite getting along:

’But I confess that much as I love them, I could wish them both to the Devil, with their high-flown, egocentrical points of honour and their purblind spurring one another to remarkable exploits that may very well end in unnecessary death… There is a systemic flocci-nauci-nihili-pilification of all other aspects of existence that angers me… I have no patience for them. They are strangely immature for men of their age and their position: though, indeed, it is supposed that if they were not, they would not be here – the mature, the ponderate mind does not embark itself upon a man-of-war – is not to be found wandering about the face of the ocean in quest of violence.’

Finally, the many small moments of humour are harder to quantify. But I did get a very good chuckle when JA had to deal with the “infernal bore” of the report of a lowly seaman who committed the unnatural crime of sodomy on a goat. And then Stephen politely declined the offer of goat’s milk for his tea.

Capital! Just capital! A truly excellent book. And to think there are at least 20 more of them in the entire series!


Crumbolst said...

You too?! Damn, now I have to read it.

Olman Feelyus said...

You really captured some great moments there. I had forgotten that whole episode of the goat. That was hilarious. I love the language of that period. So rich. We have gained a lot with our modern media network, but we have lost some other things as well.

Redwing said...

Great review! Sorry for slacking on the comments. I have left your comment unread in my GR since you posted even though I have read it about ten times!

You make a good point that you can read the book without looking up every detail. I only felt compelled because, well, I want to hold the title of Saltiest Dog one day, and so I insisted on looking up everything from a felucca to, well, a the knot you mentioned.

You pulled out some great quotes.

And I quite liked the James Dillon/Jack Aubrey conflict and wished that it could have gone on in the series, maybe like a Kirk and Khan kind of conflict.

On to Book 2!

Buzby said...

I like your strategy of just ploughing through it without looking up every detail. It didn't do me much good to do that anyway since I have forgotten everything I looked up in the first place!

Doc said...

I loved this book. Great historical fiction.

Man, you came on strong in the last half of 08. I am just getting around to catching up on your blog. Good work!