Feb. 6th, 2017

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In the third of Patrick O'Brian's series, Jack Aubrey has to rescue his friend Stephen Maturin from torture and imprisonment at the hands of the dastardly French before they embark on the eponymous ship, Jack's first actual command as a post-captain, for a voyage to the East Indies and back, with halts in Brazil, Bombay and Calcutta as well as a harrowing voyage far to the south of Cape Horn. Jack's fiancee, Sophie, is left behind in England, waiting for him to earn enough to clear his debts and gain her mother's consent to their marriage, while the object of Stephen's affections has decamped to India as the mistress of a businessman and he hopes to meet her and win her back.

O'Brian is terrific comfort reading; he has a wonderfully dry wit and Aubrey and Maturin (and their relationship) are delightful. I love the complexity of Stephen's character*; spy, tetchy medical man, thwarted lover, duellist, both a man of the world and also, when given the chance to set foot on a strange shore, full of innocent wonder. During this book he acquires, at various times, a sloth (my favourite line in the book may well be the wonderful "Jack, you have debauched my sloth") and a giant tortoise; he and the much placider Jack quarrel and make up and Jack nurses him back to health not once but twice (hurt/comfort is very definitely a theme of this series).

I still don't know my stuns'ls from my royals, and I am somewhat hazy on the difference between wearing and tacking, but that doesn't really seem to matter. I did think that I could have done with a list of the crew of the Surprise, as well as the rigging diagram at the start of the book, as I struggled a bit to remember who was a lieutenant or a midshipman or the bosun or the purser, but that didn't really seem to matter either. It was relaxing, and fun, and perfect reading for a person who wasn't feeling 100% on a gloomy winter day.

* We watched the 2003 film with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany on Saturday, and while I thought the actors looked the part, the film's Maturin was a much less complex character, really only managing to reflect one aspect of his original.


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