After being told about them for years, I recently “discovered” the AUBREY/MATURIN novels by Patrick O’Brian. 10 years ago a group of co-workers became obsessed with them and since then other friends and my Dad sang their praises, yet I resisted all the urging to read the books. What could be so gripping about reading 20 books set on a boring old sailing boat during the boring old Napoleonic wars? After all, they weren’t set in outer space or anywhere “cool” like that. So much for my good judgment… Thankfully, my pal Tony, who is always reading 10 things at the same time, thrust the first three books into my arms as I was getting ready to board a plane last month, and now I am well and truly on the hook.
With the help of an indespensible companion volume (that decodes some of the naval jargon and gives truly fascinating political and historical background detail) I read those first three novels in under two weeks. I actually looked forward to my commuting train ride so that I could read, and then when I got home I would bolt down a perfunctory meal so that I could read until I passed out in the wee hours of the morning. I’m now almost at the end of the eighth book THE IONIAN MISSION.
The last time I enjoyed a series of books this much was the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy but sadly there were only 3 of those… whereas the AUBREY/MATURIN series has 20 novels to get through, so once you get the wheels on your obsession engine spinning you have some places to go driving it. So in that sense, the best comparison for me is my memory of hungrily reading BIGGLES or the WILLIAM books when I was a little kid… except now I get to do that in a GROWN UP kind of way.
The Aubrey/Maturin stories deal with the bond that grows between Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, two very different men, who nevertheless become inseperable friends throughout their intertwining naval careers. Their relationship is very complex as they couldn’t be more different in temperament or even their philosophies, but that is what gives the books a lot of their richness. And of course there is also the issue of the Napleonic wars, the war of 1812 and the life aboard ship to add a lot of excitemenet and adventure.
So if you are, like I was, somewhat skeptical about the nautical, give these books a try and you may be surprised how little TV you will be watching over the next few months…