Tuesday, March 08, 2011
13. Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian
In advance of an online Beat to Quarters game (and because it's been too long since I read the first one in the series), I decided to pick up the second book in the famous and much-loved Aubrey-Maturin series. Meezly was one step ahead of me and kept her copy of the book, so that made it even easier.
Once again, there is real pleasure in diving into these two remarkable men's relationship and the life of adventure they lead. Added to the enjoyment is the rich language of O'Brian and his great depictions of the world around them. One often thinks of this period in history as downtrodden and meagre, but O'Brian makes it a compelling fantasy world, with diverse charactes and intrigue and adventure at every turn. Just little things, like the poor alchoholic Gibbon monkey in the rigging of the Lively (and the struggle between two sailors for the heads of other monkeys that had died on board) make one want to ship off oneself, despite the privations and the fear of the cat and rope-ends!
I didn't consider this book to be a slog, as Meezly did. But I do agree that it goes on for too long. It seems that the story should end when Jack and Stephen's love conflict is resolved and Jack gets promoted to Post. Instead, there is a whole other storyline where he and his temporary command of the Lively joins a mission to steal some spanish gold. This feels like it should be in a different book.
In general, at least so far, these books are structured in a strangely dreamlike episodical way. He slips from scene to scene without any explicit transition. One moment, Jack is talking to Stephen about his worries for his meeting with the admiralty and the very next paragraph is him actually speaking to the Admiral. Other sections suddenly fast forward seasons in a single paragraph. It takes some getting used to. It made me think, in the beginning, that the division by books was an artificial one. By the end, however, I realized that it is the love triangle and Jack's need to get a Post position that unite this book. I'll have to see how this structure manifests itself in the next books.
The battle, though, before that, where the awkward Polychrest (a ship that had initially been designed to suppport a failed secret rocket weapon and then foisted on Jack by a spiteful Admiral) sneaks into a French bay and wreaks havocs on their parked ships is just awesome. This is the thing about this series, it is all wrapped up in rich language and social conflicts but when ships go broadside and cannons blast and men leap into other ships with pikes and swords, the shit really hits the fan. There is serious action in these books. Great, ripping stuff and I am so psyched that there are tons more books to go!