Friday, May 16, 2008

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I’m not a great fan of historical novels generally, although I remember being much entertained on a tedious return journey from Greece by a Mary Renault novel about Knossos. This book takes us into the world of the British navy in the late 18th Century and does so convincingly – but am I bothered? Well I suppose I’m mildly entertained although the accumulation of arcane detail can occasionally clog the narrative flow. The descriptions of setting up ships for naval warfare and the various stratagems employed to fool the enemy are entertaining, in a Boy’s Own sort of way. Less convincing is the psychological landscape depicted. Why was Maturin dreading Dillon’s arrival? What did Aubrey do to Dillon that made him sulk so? The explanations hardly seemed to justify the inordinate fuss. I did however discover what “loblolly” meant (it also crops up in Larkin's poetry). It is used to describe a boy or man who helps out the ship’s doctor by feeding the sick crew. But I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the rest of O’Brian’s work.