Patrick O'Brian's acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels has been described as "a masterpiece" (David Mamet, New York Times), "addictively readable" (Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune), and "the best historical novels ever written" (Richard Snow, New York Times Book Review), which "should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century" (George Will). Set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, O'Brian's twenty-volume series centers on the enduring friendship between naval officer Jack Aubrey and physician (and spy) Stephen Maturin. The Far Side of the World, the tenth book in the series, was adapted into a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir and starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. The film was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture. The books are now available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format. In addition to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, Patrick O'Brian wrote several books including the novels Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore, as well as biographies of Joseph Banks and Picasso. He translated many works from French into English, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir, the first volume of Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle, and famed fugitive Henri Cherriere's memoir Papillon. O'Brian died in January 2000.
Having spent 16 previous volumes so wonderfully delineating his pair of 18th-century heroes, Captain Jack Aubrey and physician/secret agent Stephen Maturin, and the world in which they live, O'Brian apparently feels that series fans will be delighted to share any aspect of their lives. He's probably right. In this 17th seagoing adventure (after The Wine-Dark Sea), O'Brian successfully manages the trick of devoting much of the book to matters more domestic than naval. Stephen's words to Jack's wife, Sophie, hardly smell of gunpowder and brine: "`...that was a sumptuous feast you gave us.... I returned to the venison pasty not once but three times.'" Jack is greeted with an unexpected promotion to full Commodore when he arrives back in England. Meanwhile, Stephen finds that his wife, Diane, has run away because of her guilt over the apparent autism of their young daughter, whom Stephen meets for the first time, and with whom he is painfully unable to communicate. When next they head out to sea, both men depart under clouds: a jealousy-induced disagreement with Sophie weighs on Jack's mind, while plotting by Stephen's enemies has put his fortune and friends in jeopardy. Re-engaging in the Napoleonic Wars, the new Commodore takes his motley and often fractious squadron on a foray to disrupt slave traders in the Gulf of Guinea and then to the seas off Ireland to engage the French. As always, O'Brian tells his tale with great historical and nautical accuracy. Those who have sailed these seas before will happily go along on this latest voyage. (Apr.)
"I devoured Patrick O'Brian's 20-volume masterpiece as if it had been so many tots of Jamaica grog." -- Christopher Hitchens - Slate "Gripping and vivid... a whole, solidly living world for the imagination to inhabit." -- A. S. Byatt "O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin volumes actually constitute a single 6,443-page novel, one that should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century." -- George Will "I haven't read novels [in the past ten years] except for all of the Patrick O'Brian series. It was, unfortunately, like tripping on heroin. I started on those books and couldn't stop." -- E. O. Wilson - Boston Globe "Patrick O'Brian is unquestionably the Homer of the Napoleonic wars." -- James Hamilton-Paterson - New Republic "I fell in love with his writing straightaway, at first with Master and Commander. It wasn't primarily the Nelson and Napoleonic period, more the human relationships. ...And of course having characters isolated in the middle of the goddamn sea gives more scope. ...It's about friendship, camaraderie. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin always remind me a bit of Mick and me." -- Keith Richards "It has been something of a shock to find myself-an inveterate reader of girl books-obsessed with Patrick O'Brian's Napoleonic-era historical novels... What keeps me hooked are the evolving relationships between Jack and Stephen and the women they love." -- Tamar Lewin - New York Times "[O'Brian's] Aubrey-Maturin series, 20 novels of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, is a masterpiece. It will outlive most of today's putative literary gems as Sherlock Holmes has outlived Bulwer-Lytton, as Mark Twain has outlived Charles Reade." -- David Mamet - New York Times "The Aubrey-Maturin series... far beyond any episodic chronicle, ebbs and flows with the timeless tide of character and the human heart." -- Ken Ringle - Washington Post "There is not a writer alive whose work I value over his." -- Stephen Becker - Chicago Sun-Times "The Commodore is so satisfying...because it is crowded with so many different kinds of pleasures. O'Brian's genius is in his ability to arrange all this material upon the well-constructed frame of an adventure plot...A lyric poet working in the epic form." -- John Ferguson - Boston Sunday Globe "The best historical novels ever written... On every page Mr. O'Brian reminds us with subtle artistry of the most important of all historical lessons: that times change but people don't, that the griefs and follies and victories of the men and women who were here before us are in fact the maps of our own lives." -- Richard Snow - New York Times Book Review