Sunday, September 5, 2010

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

As I said previously, I had bought the first seven books of this 21-book series - really to see if I'd like them or not.  I am exceptionally pleased to report that I now own all 21 books including to extremely helpful books entitled A Sea of Words and Harbors and High Seas both written by Dean King and John B. Hattendorf.  These books were exclusively written to help the lubber reader like me to understand all the sea-jargon and old world geography.  These books arrived just a few days before I finished reading Post Captain.

Obviously Post Captain was even better than Master and Commander else I doubt I would have bought the rest of the books.  When I was on the last chapter, I was curious to see if these books related to real battles during the Napoleonic War.  So like most common idiots, I googled around and eventually landed on wikipedia.  There, I found myself reading the summary of Post Captain.  It was a very well written summary that gave solid broad strokes without revealing too much detail.

One thing I found interesting was how the plot became a bit clearer and less mysterious after reading the wiki summary.  O'Brian has a way of writing in "off-hand" or in "understatement" form.  And what I mean by this, is that he could write one sentence that changes the whole plot, but he writes it in such a way that the change in plot is not explicit - the reader has to take it on the uptake - think about it a bit.  So for example, in the book I recall someone making a comment to Jack (I believe it was Admiral Harte) along the lines that the captain is expected to sleep aboard his ship.  Jack denies that he has been sleeping off-ship.  Well, as it turns out - after reading wikipedia - Jack was having an affair with Diana.  Funny - the same thing happened in Master and Commander in that the way O'Brian described Jack going on-shore all dressed up nice and then returns 'defeated', we never are explicitly told he had an affair with Harte's wife.  The reader has to read into the words a lot.  Now that I'm used to his writing, I'm beginning to pick up on it a bit.

I won't go into the plot summary - you can find it on wikipedia.

I really got into this book.  One morning on the bus, I read the part where Jack and the Polychrest are chasing the Bellone and instead of taking her (or her merchant ships) he manages to only run her aground.  When he returns to port, instead of a congratulations from the admiral, he is berated for coming out of the chase with nothing.  He is assigned channel duty - which essentially is a slap in the face and reprimand.  I felt utterly sorry for Jack - I closed the book at that point and really felt his sorrow.

On the flip side, I was quite elated to read of the raid on the French fort - Harte having virtually sent the odd Polychrest and Jack to their death among the fort's guns and the dangerous shoals.  Instead of dying, Jack pulls off a fantastic raid despite the Polychrest having run aground.  Jack and his crew captured a French ship and used her to pull the Polychrest off the sandbank.  They then managed to wreck havoc on the fort and capture two French ships.  This victory seals Jack's promotion to post.

The sub-plots with the women and Stephen's spying and even their escape from France are also highly entertaining.  The sub-plots with the women read more like Pride and Prejudice than a sea novel.  So much more is coming back to mind and I really loved everything about it.

As I said before, I bought these two reference books on the Aubrey-Maturin series.  I'll be reading them for the next few days - getting familiar with them - and then use them as reference.  Perhaps the picture O'Brian paints will be a bit more clearer for me with this background information.

PS - as far as I could tell, these books' backgrounds are against the Napoleonic Wars, but they don't re-create the battles in them.  The battles and ships may have been based on non-related historical facts, but there is no one-to-one match to the historical record.