Patrick O'Brian, one of our greatest contemporary novelists, is the author of the acclaimed Aubrey--Maturin tales and the biographer of Joseph Banks and Picasso. His first novel, Testimonies, and his Collected Short Stories have recently been republished by HarperCollins. In 1995 he was the first recipient of the Heywood Hill Prize for a lifetime's contribution to literature. In the same year he was awarded the CBE. In 1997 he received an honorary doctorate of letters from Trinity College, Dublin. He died in January 2000 at the age of 85.
Here is the 20th in the series presenting the escapades of Cap. Jack Aubrey of the British Royal Navy ship Surprise and his longtime companion, naval surgeon Stephen Maturin. O'Brian belongs to that select group of historical novelists who seem to write for their own audiences; his fans will greet the present volume eagerly. But for readers unacquainted with the series, Blue at the Mizzen would not be the best way to be introduced to O'Brian and his seaworthy heroes; one needs the background of the previous volumes to connect with all the characters. When we last climbed aboard the Surprise, Aubrey, Maturin, and crew had helped frustrate Napoleon in his plan to conquer Europe. In this seafaring adventure, we are off to Chile to help Bernardo O'Higgins and Jos‚ de San Martin in their struggle to rid the country of Spanish domination. O'Brian never races through his stories; he drags them crabwise toward their predictable denouements. The current book is loaded to the gunwales with turgid dialog, ornate prose, and episodes that seem pasted on rather than built into the narrative. But that is part of O'Brian's appeal to his fans. Buy for them. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/99.]ÄA.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
'... full of the energy that comes from a writer having struck a vein... Patrick O'Brian is unquestionably the Homer of the Napoleonic wars.' James Hamilton-Paterson 'You are in for the treat of your lives. Thank God for Patrick O'Brian: his genius illuminates the literature of the English language, and lightens the lives of those who read him.' Kevin Meyers, Irish Times 'In a highly competitive field it goes straight to the top. A real first-rater.' Mary Renault 'I never enjoyed a novel about the sea more. It is not only that the author describes the handling of a ship of 1800 with an accuracy that is as comprehensible as it is detailed, a remarkable feat in itself. Mr O'Brian's three chief characters are drawn with no less sympathy that the vessels he describes, a rare achievement save in the greatest of writers of this genre. It deserves the widest readership.' Irish Times
With bittersweet pleasure, readers may deem this 20thÄand possibly finalÄinstallment in O'Brian's highly regarded series featuring Capt. Jack Aubrey of the English Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, ship's doctor, the best of the lot. Post-Waterloo, the frigate Surprise sets sail to South America as a "hydrographical vessel," ostensibly to survey the Straits of Magellan and Chile's southern coast. In fact, Jack and Stephen are to offer help to the Chilean rebels trying to break free from Spain. On their way down the coast of West Africa, romance blossoms for both men. Jack's liaison (with his cousin, Isobel, in Gibraltar) is brief, but widower Stephen's passion for Christine Wood, a naturalist who has been his correspondent for some time, turns serious in Sierra Leone. The doctor's correspondence with Christine begins with accounts of his explorations in Africa and South America, referencing, say, an "anomalous nuthatch" or the "etymology of doldrum," but they're quite wonderful love letters, functioning as a chorus to the action. Once in Chile, despite the conflict between opposing rebel camps, Jack leads a successful raid on a treasure fort in Valdivia, followed by the seizure of a Peruvian frigate to be turned over to the Chilean rebels, triumphs that reap him a just reward; at that point, readers will learn the title's significance. Throughout, familiar characters abound and entertain, especially the amusingly nasty steward, Killick, and Stephen's "loblolly girl" (nurse), Poll Skeeping. And finally, there is Horatio Hanson, bastard son of a nobleman, who comes on board as a midshipman, a dashing young foil for the ship's elders. O'Brian has rightfully been compared to Jane Austen, but one wonders if even she would have done justice to "those extraordinary hollow dwellings, sometimes as beautiful as they were comfortless." To use one of Stephen's favorite expressions, "What joy!" Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.) FYI: Over three million copies of the books in the Aubrey/Maturin series have been sold. O'Brian will make two mid-November appearances in New York, one already sold out. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.