6 reasons to start reading Patrick O’Brian today

It all began in 1998. He was a young midshipman being buffeted about the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars while I was a 15 year old school girl struggling to solve the problem of appropriate level of glitter to social occasion ratio, but it was true love. The television series of C. S. Forester’s 12 book Horatio Hornblower series was my gateway drug and I’ve been an avid fan of Napoleonic naval novels (say that five times fast!) since. Luckily my Dad joined me in this mania and we’ve been working our way through various books and series since.

The top of the heap of this particular genre of fiction has to be the massive 20 book (1 unfinished) Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. A must for fans of nautical fiction, historical fiction, good books and reading in general! If you don’t believe me, read on and find 7 good reasons for you to start reading Patrick O’Brian today!

1. This book has the greatest meet-cute OF ALL TIME. I realise that the two main characters don’t form a romantic attachment but the scene where Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and the Irish-Catalan Stephen Maturin- a physician, natural philosopher and intelligence agent meet is probably the funniest scene I’ve ever read. Music features prominently in the friendship of the two men so where better to meet than at a concert?

2. I’m sorry, but these two beat Sherlock and Holmes hands down. These books contain the most ‘mismatched but still best of friends’ in literature. ‘Lucky’ Jack is a larger than life figure who is a man of action and has had huge success in the service of the navy while he seems less steady on land. Maturin is described as small, quiet and well-educated and also operates as a highly skilled spy for the British government, unbeknownst to the people around him. As much as it pains them at times to admit it, they become indispensable to each other while their enjoyment of music, puns and witticisms also lead to the lighter moments in the novels.

3. While many of the books in the series centre around the battles fought at sea, the fact that Maturin is an intelligence officer allows the books to explore the social and political aspects of this period in more depth. Along with his other pursuits; his scientific interest in the natural world and ventures into philosophy, Maturin is the means by which O’Brian allows the reader to enter into this world more fully. The reader is given all the excitement of a good naval battle along with a rich and often nuanced picture of life during this period of great change. This leads nicely to…

4. The historical accuracy of these novels is obvious and O’Brian refuses to hold your hand through the narrative. No where is this more obvious than in the language used. Traditionally Maturin (as an outsider to the Navy) would be the means by which the narrative would explain some of naval jargon but this is often refused to both him and us. As Dean King notes in his works on O’Brian the reader has no option but to become completely immersed in this foriegn language until, almost without you realising it, you’re cursing some lubberly fool.

5. The fifth reason you should read this is that Patrick O’Brian himself seems to have led a fascinating life. Intensely private, for many years everyone in the publishing world and his fans believed he was Irish, while he had also hinted at intelligence work during the war. In 1998, however, an exposé and documentary on the BBC uncovered the truth of his life, marriages and nationality. He had been born Richard Patrick Russ in Buckinghamshire. He changed his name to Patrick O’Brian in 1945. This uncovering at the age of 84,  caused immense distress to the author. He died two years later at Trinity College in Dublin where he had been doing research.

6. The sixth and final reason you should pick up these books is that as well as being available at some of the branches in Laois, they are all available for download as eaudiobooks and ebooks from the Borrowbox app along with the biography penned by his step-son Nikolai Tolstoy, Patrick O’Brian- A Very Private Life


Lori Moriarty, Durrow Library

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