There are writers, and there is Patrick O’Brian. In the wake of C S Forester and his popular Hornblower series of Napoleonic naval fiction, there were several who explored this area.
Battles against the French, the weather, the times, and the technology of wooden ships and tarred rope put these books firmly in the old-timey technothriller realm.
Patrick O’Brian, and his epic of twenty novels of Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend, Doctor Stephen Maturin, belong to this nautical world, but the superb writing, the emphasis on character rather than plot, the intricate details of the period and the culture, and most of all the wonderful wit put the books high above their fellows, and give the series a flavour best described as “Jane Austen goes to sea”.
Forget the ships and the battles and the uniforms. This is a treatise on friendship in a million sparkling words.
They are sheer delight from beginning to end, and no matter how many times one reads through the entire canon, there is always something new.
Two weevils crept from the crumbs. ‘You see those weevils, Stephen?’ said Jack solemnly.
‘Which would you choose?’
‘There is not a scrap of difference. Arcades ambo. They are the same species of curculio, and there is nothing to choose between them.’
‘But suppose you had to choose?’
‘Then I should choose the right-hand weevil; it has a perceptible advantage in both length and breadth.’
‘There I have you,’ cried Jack. ‘You are bit – you are completely dished. Don’t you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils? Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!’
‘He that would make a pun would pick a pocket,’ said Stephen, ‘and that miserable quibble is not even a pun, but a vile clench.’
‘Go and see whether the Doctor is about,’ said Jack, ‘and if he is, ask him to look in, when he has a moment.’
‘Which he is in the fish-market, turning over some old-fashioned lobsters. No. I tell a lie. That is him, falling down the companion-way and cursing in foreign.’
…looking angrily at the wombat: and a moment later, ‘Come now, Stephen, this is coming it pretty high: your brute is eating my hat.’
‘So he is, too,’ said Dr. Maturin. ‘But do not be perturbed, Jack; it will do him no harm, at all. His digestive processes–‘
‘Mr Mowett,’ called Stephen in the pause while the table was clearing to make room for the pudding, and pudding-wine—in this case Frontignan and Canary—was handing about, ‘you were telling me about your publishers.’
‘Yes, sir: I was about to say that they were the most hellish procrastinators—’
‘Oh how dreadful,’ cried Fanny. ‘Do they go to—to special houses, or do they …’
‘He means they delay,’ said Babbington.
There is not space enough to list even the best of the best. Go to Goodreads and feast.
And then hie yourself off to your closest bookbuilder, and order the complete set.
Image by Britni Pepper