Review of "Master and Commander"

Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian. ISBN 0-00-649915-5.

This is the first of the famous "Aubrey-Maturin" series, which follows the career of a captain in the 19th-century Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon. I'm not particularly an enthusiast for nautical yarns, and this book didn't make a convert of me; those with more relish than I have for foretopgallantstunsails and sea-battles and rumours of buggery will have to make allowances.

"Master and Commander" opens with two pages of pure musical bullshitting. I very nearly put the book down in the first paragraph when I read

[...] were playing with passionate conviction as they mounted towards the penultimate crescendo, towards the tremendous pause and the deep, liberating final chord.

... especially as this supposedly describes a piece of music that doesn't actually exist. How difficult could it have been for O'Brian to have sought out someone who actually knew something about music?

Things do improve after that. I can only assume that the naval jargon isn't as badly garbled as the musical (and, a little later in the book, the mathematical). The profusion of feluccas and close-reefed topsails and bow-chasers and handspikes and mainstaysails presumably adds, for some readers, to the feel of the flung spray and the blown spume and the seagulls crying; for me, it feels more like showing off.

The central characters are well enough drawn. The incidental characters, of whom there are many, are barely sketched; they are apparently of interest to O'Brian only in so far as they bear on Aubrey's career.

For all that, I enjoyed "Master and Commander" well enough. But I shan't be rushing out to buy all the other books in the series.