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I read the first two Aubrey/Maturin books many many years ago, and while I enjoyed them I never quite got into the habit of pursuing the series. A couple of years back I picked up Desolation Island from Bookmooch (which seems incidentally to have lurched back into activity in the last month or so, which is good news) and have now submitted to various people's urgings in my last couple of what-shall-I-read-next-year posts and digested it.

It is a cracking good read. There's an awful lot packed in here; apart from the basic plot of Aubrey commanding a mission both transporting convicts and recsuing Bligh (of Bounty fame) and Maturin finding his personal and political allegiances increasingly tangled as the War of 1812 looms. Loads of the ship's crew are killed by violence or disease. The high point of the book is an engagement with a Dutch ship, brilliantly described from Aubrey's point of view as a testing to destruction of both vessels; the victorious but severely damaged British limp to what we now call Kerguelen Island, the island of the title of the book, and have a diplomatically tricky encounter with an American crew while they are there. O'Brian's sensitivity to language and nuance is rather lovely, and I shall try and develop this habit a little more.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
Patrick O'Brian must've been asked this a lot because in the Thirteen Gun Salute, Jack (and O'Brian of course,) explains that Desolation Island is, in fact, not Kerguelen but "further south and east".
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
Well, Kerguelen is actually located at the longitude and latitude given in Desolation Island, so Jack (and possibly also O'Brian) is wrong in the later book!
Mar. 28th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
Well, I think it's in keeping with the possibility that some parts of the Aubrey-Maturin universe are, well, imaginary.
Mar. 29th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC)
O'Brien obviously intends it to be Kerguelen: it's the right size, the right shape, and in the right place. If Kerguelen is north and west of Desolation, then Jack & co would have stopped at Kerguelen. In fact, some of the local geography of Kerguelen reportedly matches parts of the book. My guess is that some dedicated fan subsequently discovered something about Kerguelen which doesn't fit with the book, so O'Brian decided to simplify the question by making the whole of Desolation imaginary.
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
You may enjoy learning of the copy-editing jape I spotted while reading this novel out-of-order in the series.

The glitch was repaired in later editions, making the joke vanish.
Mar. 28th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
(Spoilers.) O'Brian has a technique of placing important aspects of the story off-stage, making the reader think harder about them than if all the details had been spelled out. In Desolation Island the most notable of these is the relationship between Herapath and Wogan: there are almost no directly narrated scenes between them, and the crucial scene where Wogan persuades Herapath to betray his friends and shipmates is seen only through Stephen's telescope and imagination.
Mar. 29th, 2012 11:03 am (UTC)
If you do take up the rest of the series, be aware that DI is one of the finest, and the last few are distinctly downhill.
Mar. 29th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC)
The eleven books from The Fortune of War through to The Wine-Dark Sea are magnificent, so there's no need to worry yet about the falling-off in quality.
Mar. 29th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. One of my favourites is the one in which Maturin finds an unusual opportunity for dissection, which I think is probably 'The Thirteen-Gun Salute'.
Mar. 29th, 2012 08:46 pm (UTC)
Another crucial episode which O'Brian places off stage.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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