By Patrick O’Brian
Even though Redwing beat me to it, his review was rather paltry ;-), so here’s my attempt!
I was quite looking forward to reading this, as I enjoyed Master and Commander tremendously. The 2nd installment picks up where the first book left off, and begins rather like a Jane Austen novel with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin ensconced in the English countryside. They soon become acquainted with their neighbours -- the “feminine household” of Mapes Court. O’Brian does a wonderful job of introducing each female character. I was immediately drawn to the cynical and brilliant widow, Diana Villiers, who becomes entangled in a romantic triangle with Jack and Stephen. She says things like “Thou looks’t like Antichrist in that lewd hat” to her younger cousin.
Even though Diana believes that “there is no friendship in men”, she and Stephen strike up an unusual yet platonic relationship. “You do know I am a woman, Maturin?” Yet the harmony does not last long, as things get complicated when Jack enters the scene!
As expected, there are many humourous and lighthearted moments, like when Stephen and Jack flee to Spain in a ridiculous disguise that I won’t give away, and how Preserved Killick becomes Jack’s steward. And there is O’Brian’s brilliant writing. Whether it’s describing Jack’s internal thoughts:
Yet the surface of his mind was taken up less with his coming interview than with getting the utmost possible service from a single handkerchief and with vague darting reflections upon poverty – an old acquaintance, almost a friend – a more natural state for sea-officers than wealth – wealth very charming – should love to be rich again; but there was the loss of all those little satisfactions of contriving – the triumph of a guinea found in an old waistcoat pocket – the breathless tension over the turn of a card.
Or about Jack and Stephen’s friendship:
They were looking after themselves, living with rigid economy; and there was no greater proof of their friendship than the way their harmony withstood their very grave differences in domestic behaviour. In Jack’s opinion Stephen was little better than a slut: his papers, odd bits of dry, garlic’d bread, his razors and small-clothes lay on and about his private table in a miserable squalor; and from the appearance of the grizzled wig that was now acting as a tea-cozy for his milk-saucepan, it was clear that he had breakfasted on marmalade.
I can understand why fans would read all 20 books in the series. If every book contained scatterings of little gems such as these, I too would be happy to read all 20 indeed!
However, nothing is ever perfect, not even a Patrick O’Brian book.
With Post Captain at almost 500 pages, it was frankly, quite a slog at times. Master & Commander was tighter in structure and plot, and thus more consistently engaging, while Post Captain suffered from too many storylines and lack of cohesion. At times the threads were too vague or subtle for the stop-start reading or perhaps it was that certain key points got buried amidst all the male-driven action and politics, cuz I didn’t realize until much later that Jack & Diana were actually having an illicit affair!
In the end, it took me much longer to read the second installment than the first. In order to recall all the events, I found a blog which provides an amusing condensed version of what goes down in Post Captain. Another review also sums up the more critical feelings I had for the 2nd installment quite nicely.
So yes, as many flaws as there are gems, but I'd read the next installment without hesitation, though I may take a long break before I do so, as there are many other books to read!