I’ve been joining in Sheila’s First Book of the Year for many years now. It has become one of my bookish traditions.
As from the 1st January 2021, I will be reading Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. This is a reread so that I can join in Nick’s #AubreyMaturinReadalong over the next four years. If you’re unsure if you want to tackle such a long commitment or are put off by the nautical terminology, please see Nick’s preparatory post for encouragement.
Personally, I let the nautical stuff wash over me during my first read. By the end of the series though, I was more familiar and comfortable with the terminology. I was also constantly fascinated to learn that many of our regularly used adages began on board ships. The illustration at the beginning of each book, listing the various sails of a square-rigged ship, helped as well.
Curiously, this knowledge has served me well in other reading adventures – including Moby-Dick and more recently Ernestine Hill’s, My Love Must Wait. I even recognised some of the same ships that Jack talks about throughout the series as being real-life ships that Matthew Flinders sailed in. The early exploits of HMS Bellerophon (1786) under Thomas Pasley, were much discussed by Flinders, so I was delighted to see that Jack spies a group of Bellerophon’s seamen (Billy Ruffian’s) parading about town on leave in Port Mahon, early in chapter one.
This time around, I hope to explore some of these terms a little more, especially the ones that strike a chord with me for some reason or another. I’m also planning on sourcing some of Aubrey and Stephen’s favourite classical pieces.
My copy of M&C is inscribed with my name and dated 2nd January 2004, Mudgee. The movie starring Russell Crowe and directed by Peter Weir, had been released Nov 2003. I suspect that purchase of the book was a result of watching the movie at the lovely old local cinema in Mudgee on either New Year’s Day or the 2nd.
And so began my love affair with Jack and Stephen. I read all 20 books in the series over the next few years, plus the half-finished twenty-first book, The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey.
Although, my book club was NOT reading along with me, when I finished the last book, they celebrated the event by hosting a nautically themed meeting, complete with a pirate’s chest full of treasure!
When asked why I read all 21 books (and why I’m considering rereading them all again now), it’s because of Jack & Stephen. Their friendship is one of the most enduring and beautifully wrought examples of male bonding in literature. From their shared interest of classical music, they discover, aboard various ships, in very small and intimate spaces, how to be friends. Friends who accept each other for who they are, knowing each others foibles and failings as well as their strengths. For Jack, as a new-made Captain, suddenly realising he is no longer one of the boys, but a ‘them’, aloof, on his own at the helm, having a friend who is a physician (NOT a surgeon) allows him the luxury of one equal on board often very long and lonely voyages) that he can talk with in a relaxed way and not always be Captain Jack.
Like all series, some of the stories are stronger than others. O’Brian was obviously under pressure to keep the books coming, and sometimes that resulted in a less than satisfactory reading experience.
I’ve now completed chapter one of Master and Commander (1993) with much delight. To picture Port Mahon, Minorca better (the Spanish island where Jack and Stephen meet for the very first time, at a music recital), I googled and found this lovely post from Trail of the Immortal Memory, with photos of the main scenes from this chapter. I love being able to picture where Jack stood, at the top of the Pigtail Steps, looking down on the harbour, trying to spot his new command, the Sophie, for the first time.
I wasn’t sure if I would make it all the way through the series again, but judging by my reaction to book one today, I’m in, for the long haul!
He saw and appreciated all he was meant to see. He was blind to the things he was not meant to see.
Happy New Year one and all. Here’s to a better, brighter and healthier 2021!
My previous First Book of the Year books: