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H.M.S. Surprise, Patrick O’Brian, Norton, 1994 (c1973), ISBN 0-393-03703-7, $22.50, 379pp.

It has been awhile since I’ve read a book in this series, but returning to it I felt like I had never taken a break. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin have become my good friends, and Patrick O’Brian swept me away with their exploits instantly. Even thought the style is decidedly un-modern, O’Brian’s narrative thrust is irresistible. In this, the third volume of the series, Jack is still in debt due to the Admiralty refusing to honor a war prize based on a technicality, thus putting his engagement to Sophie in danger. Maturin is in real danger as the new Lord governing the navy broadcasts his name in a public meeting, thus raising possible questions about his role as a spy. Stephen’s heart is troubled as well; he still moons over Diana Villiers, from the events of the second book.

How can you possibly dislike a book that contains a line such as this: “Jack, you have debauched my sloth.” Yes, O’Brian has a certain amount of levity, although it is often hidden underneath the layers of the manners of the time. His style is somewhat like that of Jane Austen, where the most cutting of phrases are being said in the nicest of ways. You either like this sort of thing or don’t. I like it, when I catch it, but I yearn for annotations, just knowing that there are some subtleties that are escaping me.

[Finished June 1999]


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