You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Far Side of the World

The Far Side of the World is Patrick O'Brian's tenth novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series. It details a long voyage to the Pacific to find an American ship sent to capture British whalers.

The Surprise is stationed in Gibraltar, where her officers and crew expect to take her on her last voyage to be decommissioned. But Aubrey is given orders to find the Norfolk, an American ship that has been sent to the Pacific to disrupt British commerce by capturing whaling ships. The Surprise loses several of its crew to promotions and has to take on new hands, including some lubbers and some madmen from a sanitarium. They get a late start, and sail across the Atlantic. They discover that the Norfolk was also delayed, so take time to replace a bowsprit that was lost. While there, the Norfolk is spotted sailing by, so the ship takes off as fast as they can. However, end end up running aground on a sand bar and getting stuck for two weeks, until the spring tide returns.

When the ship is freed from the sand bar, they travel through the tumultuous waters around Cape Horn. Their new crew causes problems when the gunner's wife, Mrs. Horner, starts an affair with another warrant officer, Mr. Hollom. When she gets pregnant, Dr. Maturin refuses to perform an abortion. His assistant performs one anyway, and she is ill for several weeks. Mr. Horner figures out what is going on, and takes the two on an island, and returns without them. Later, the surgeon's assistant disappears mysteriously. Finally, the gunner hangs himself.

The Surprise captures several prizes that have been captured by the Norfolk and sent to port. They stop in the Galapagos where they pick up some marooned sailors from one of the whalers. Later, Jack jumps off the ship to save Stephen, who fell out the captain's stern window. But nobody can hear his cries for help over the crew's singing. They are picked up by a boat full of Pacific islander women, who are hostile to all men. The women eventually leave the two men on an island, where they are found by one of the Surprise's boats.

Finally the Surprise reaches an island where the Norfolk is shipwrecked. The Americans claim that the war is over. Their surgeon prepares to operate on Stephen's brain, since Stephen has been in a coma after hitting his head on a cannon. But Stephen awakes before the operation can begin. The Surprise is carried away in a storm while Jack and Stephen and several other men are stranded on the island. Hostilities grow between the British sailors and the American sailors, finally leading to blows. At the very end, when the fighting begins in earnest, the Surprise chases in an American whaler to save the day.

In spite of a lack of good naval battles, the story is very exciting. Instead of a battle or chase, the story is about tracking down an enemy ship. The subplots are compelling, especially the story about the gunner's wife. We see a lot of character development in Jack Aubrey, and also Stephen Maturin. It's entertaining to watch the interaction between the two when they are alone in the ocean and then on the women's ship and then on the island. Stephen is always more interested in the people or the trees or the rocks he finds. Jack is focused on making sure the ship finds them. Outwardly, he is so confident that Stephen doesn't doubt that they will be picked up.

The tension and drama on the island with the Americans is riveting. They're all stranded there, they only have one boat, the American captain can't control his crew, and to top it off, there are British mutineers with the American crew who face execution if they are captured by British authorities. I would say this is one of the better stories in the series. Most of the characters have been together for a while, but there are several new crew to shake things up. It's an A, and I look forward to the next book.


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