Many critics all over the world have written that this is the best historical fiction, certainly of contemporary writing, ever.
Based on an unlikely friendship between two very different characters, the captain and the doctor, united by their love of music and the close proximity in sailing ships at the time of the Napoleonic wars, the story unfolds with drama, humour and stirring action.
Throughout the 20 volumes there is a consistent writing style, full of dry humour and acute observation of the human being. The cast is wide and we get to know the minor characters as the tale unfolds. There is an immediacy to his writing which draws you in and you can almost experience the gundeck of a frigate, the boarding of enemy ships as well as the frustrations encountered on land by our two main heroes.
And heroes they are! Yet each is a specialist in his way so as the captain explains the rudiments of shipboard life – or tries to – so the doctor tells about the political scene, as well as the huge naturalist interests, so we all learn without even trying. There is a breadth of knowledge and an enormous amount of research has gone onto immersing the reader into the life, especially the nautical life, of the times of Nelson.
I am just completing my third reading, and already I am looking forward to reading the whole series yet again, the first reading ads just for the story, the second to enjoy the literary style of beautifully crafted words and the third reading for the dry humour and visual reality of the scenes. Patrick O’Brian has been feted and honoured, in the United Kingdom, America and even in France. I regret that the series was curtailed by his death, but I recommend it to anyone who is curious about our past and who likes a good yarn.
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