Friday, November 13, 2009

Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian (audio)

Book Description:
The 5th novel in Patrick O'Brian's hugely successful Aubrey/Maturin Series

Commissioned to rescue Governor Bligh of Bounty fame, Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and surgeon Stephen Maturin sail the Leopard to Australia with a hold full of convicts. Among them is a beautiful and dangerous spy -- and a treacherous disease that decimates the crew. With a Dutch man-of-war to windward, the under-manned, out-gunned Leopard sails for her life into the freezing waters of the Antarctic where, in mountainous seas, the Dutchman closes...

This is the first time that I've listened to one of the Master and Commander books, and I must admit, there were some things I liked about it, but some things I did not. I did like the narrator, Simon Vance, who did the various accents, but I found it hard to concentrate on the battle scenes and the various sea faring terms, such as 42 degrees longitude, 43 minutes due west (or something of that sort) that would come up quite frequently.

The story itself wasn't bad. We are back again with Lucky Jack Aubrey (who isn't as lucky in this book, as we shall see) and his friend and ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin, who is also a spy for the British against Napolean's France. Jack has got himself a ship, the Leopard, not the most gallant ship, it's not very pretty, nor does it have a glorious reputation, having blown up the unprepared American frigate, The Chesapeake in 1807, which almost set the US at war with Britain. Many Americans were killed and even Jack admits (he was not the ship's captain at the time) it was a bad job of it.

The Leopard has the ignominious task of transporting ("transporting!" says Jack scathingly) convicts to Botany Bay. A few of them are women, which is never considered good luck on a ship. One, a Mrs. Wogan is an interesting creature. She is a spy and an American - and a good friend of Diana Villiers, Stephen's old love and Achilles Heel (he's had more than enough laudanum due to her over the years, than is good for him). Diana has left him in the lurch more than once. They resemble each other and Stephen develops a fondness for Mrs. Wogan, as do most of the men on the ship. She is a genteel sort of prisoner, she has a maid and her own cabin and an endearing manner about her. She has a way of making men fall all over themselves for her. More than one probably cannot fathom the idea of her going to live in an Australian penal colony.

While en route, the Leopard has many hardships. It must face off with a Dutch Man of War which meets it's untimely end and then the Leopard hits an iceberg in the Antartic and is seriously crippled. It loses it main mast (I think) and it's rudder. Not good. It limps along until, with Jack's amazing navigational abilities, it lands on Desolation Island, a remote, frozen island inhabited by no man, just seals, penguins, sea elephants, birds and sea leopards. To Stephen, a naturalist, it is paradise. To the rest of the crew it is an icy hell. Before reaching the island, a good part of the crew set off in one of the boats (with Jack's permission) to see if they can navigate in the ocean to some warmer climates and safety. Jack will not leave his ship, of course.

The book had it's high points and some humerous moments, but it was in my opinion not as entertaining as the previous ones I've read. There is a bit in the beginning with Jack and Sophie (his wife) and children. Some bits of Stephen, gearing up for meeting Diana after a long time, only to be ditched by her (poor Stephen), and an unusual stowaway, a Mr. Herapath, who turns out to be a heartsick amour of Mrs. Wogan. Herapath becomes Stephen's mate when his last surgeon's mate dies of the fever that overtakes the ship.

While asea, the story is grim and bleak, I was actually looking forward to their reaching Botany Bay (they never do in this book) and I was hoping we'd meet Captain Bligh (of the Bounty Mutiny). I was interested in seeing what Jack thought of him, apart from the fact he was known to be a great navigator. I read all the Mutiny on the Bounty books when I was young, I highly recommend them. I would have liked to get O'Brian's take on Bligh. Much of this book was from Stephen's point of view, not much at all from Jack. In fact, for much of the book, Jack is remote, concentrating on his command, although I did enjoy a few naughty tidbits that came out of his mouth, particulary his views on women! But, mostly this is Stephen's story. Will he ever recover from Diana? Will he ever get over his opium addiction? Will he help Mrs. Wogan escape?

If you are a big fan of the series, this is a must read, but it's not a book I'd recommend to just pick up and read for the fun of it. You have to be into this type of series to appreciate it. Granted, since I was listening, I don't think I got the full effect of the writing and sea jargon and overall feel for the book like I did with the others. I think I will take a break from Jack and Stephen and concentrate on other genres, though I will revisit this series again - someday. In any event, I've knocked off another book for my TBR Challenge.


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