Master and Commander

Master and Commander (Aubrey/Maturin,  #1) - Patrick O'Brian Several of my friends are big fans of the Aubrey/Maturin series of naval adventures set in the Age of Sail that starts with this book. The series was the inspiration for the popular fantasy novels by Naomi Novik (and on a more literary note, according to the Wiki, they've been an inspiration for Iris Murdoch and Eudora Welty.) I did enjoy the Russell Crowe film based on this and another novel of the series, The Far Side of the World, and I'm a huge fan of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower books, similarly based on the exploits of a British naval officer during the Napoleonic wars. At this first outing, I didn't feel O'Brien compared well. Forester's books are far more accessible, being written in a straightforward, modern style--you open the novel and you're immediately absorbed into the adventure. O'Brian, in contrast, writes in a period style--his favorite author reportedly was Jane Austen, and this is the world of Captain Wentworth of Persuasion. O'Brian also throws a lot more naval jargon into his story than Forester, so at times my eyes glazed over. And judging from just this book, Hornblower comes across as the more impressive creation. He's rather a Sherlock Holmes of nautical fiction--a brilliant commander with plenty of tricks up his sleeves--it's no accident Hornblower was the inspiration for Captain Kirk of Star Trek. Captain Jack Aubrey doesn't impress in this first novel with his brilliance. Luck and aggression seem more the source of his success (and more than a bit of good leadership and seamanship admittedly). The book also never pulled itself together as a novel--it doesn't build towards anything and one thread of conflict never gets resolved--or at least it is in a very unsatisfactory way so I wonder what the point was of James Dillon's character. On the other hand, note these are called the "Aubrey/Maturin" books. Hornblower is very much isolated and alone. An introvert, although he trusts and cares about his subordinate, Lieutenant Bush, they're not intimates. Captain Jack Aubrey is much more extroverted, social--but also, he has a good friend in Stephen Maturin, who he first meets in this novel, and who becomes his ship's surgeon. And the books are as much about him, a brilliant physician and naturalist as they are about Aubrey. And since at the start Maturin knows nothing of the navy, through him, he and the reader are able to learn about the ships and service together. I did like how Aubrey and Maturin played off each other--their growing friendship was the highlight of the book. Reading this first book (and people tell me the series only gets better) I can understand why some find them so addictive--though I think it'll take quite a bit more of the series--and better books than Master and Commander--before I feel the same affection for Aubrey as I do for Hornblower.