Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

The bug got in me a long time ago - maybe around 1986 when we visited California for Christmas one year.  It lay mostly dormant for over 20 years and would only inflame every once in a while - especially when we went to the Oregon or California coast.  Then, out of the blue and not even being near a coast, the bug sprung to life.  Now that I think of it, fog seems to be another trigger besides visits to the coast.  Between 2006 and 2009, the bug seemed to manifest itself more frequently.  In early 2009, I developed this constant itch to be by the sea - the ocean.  Along with that itch came a yearning for things Old Worldish.  A few months after the symptoms emerged, our family moved to Houston.  I started watching more pirate movies - becoming nearly obsessed with Disney's Pirates franchise.  Even stronger were the urges to watch Russell Crow's Master and Commander Far Side of the World.  I found myself constantly gazing at pictures of the sea and beaches.

A few months after we moved to Houston, I learned that Master and Commander was not only a movie, but it was a whole series of books.  The desire to read that series became constant until I finally gave in and bought 7 books of the 21-book series.  I finally was able to begin reading the first book just over a month ago and just this morning, I finished the last page as my bus stopped at my bustop.

I had high expectations before I began this book and I am extremely happy to report that I was not let down!

The first few chapters were difficult to get through - mostly because of the sea-jargon the characters were using.  I endured for a bit, but eventually gave in and started jotting down words I didn't know into a notebook and then looked them up latter.  This side-exercise helped out a lot and I enjoyed the reading a little bit more.

The book begins with Jack Aubrey meeting Stephen Maturin.  The two discuss music and thus begins a long relationship between the doctor and Jack.  We also read of Jack's promotion to Captain and being assigned to the Sophie.  From there, we are taken on many voyages accross the Mediterrean - stops at ports, sea battles and races.  The zenith of the book is when the much smaller sloop manages to outgun and take the much larger frigate Cacafuego (which I believe means "shit-fire" in Spanish).  In the taking of the Cacafuego, his lieutenant James Dillon dies.  There is a whole sub-plot throughout the book which deals with Maturin, Dillon and Jack - but it is a little too tough to descibe - in fact, I'm not sure I understood the full extent of the sub-plot. After this fantastic victory, Jack is let down by having to perform a somewhat menial assignment.

En route on this menial assignment, Jack and his crew attack port and then consequently are followed and outrun by a few French ships.  They try to escape, but fail.  While being graciously held captive, several British ships engage the French and are defeated.  But they put in port and begin repairs and re-engaged the French, this time, taking out two of the biggest frigates in exceptional fashion.

The book ends with the court-martial of Jack - to see if he really did do all that he could to escape the French.  The book ends with his acquittal.

Obviously, I can't do the book justice, but I really enjoyed reading it and am anxious to begin the next book Post Captain which I assume is the title of Jack's next rank and the which he was desiring throughout the first book.

As a side note - we were at Half Priced Books again last week and I came across a book which I will absolutely love.  It is called Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy.  I have just now looked up the book at Amazon and found it has a whooping 4.5 stars out of 5 rating based on 105 reviews!  So that book will be put in the queue list.