Today, January 2, 2010, is the 10th anniversary of the death of the man I consider to be the greatest historical novelist of the 20th century. In his Aubrey/Maturin novels, Patrick O'Brian - like no one else before or since - really put you in the middle of life at sea. The reader is swept away to another time and place. The characters are shamelessly real with their flaws and foibles and everything smells and feels and tastes like it must have in the early 19th century.
With so many words to choose from in that vast lexicon of 21 books, the only ones I could think to use were the name of the author. O'Brian wrote many other books, from a brilliant biography of Picasso to a small, humanitarian novel called The Catalans and everything in between, but it is the Aubrey/Maturin novels that really are his masterpiece. Like a saga, they can be read individually but really should be enjoyed start to finish. So here is a list of the novels, and a few humble notes by your own Pauline:
Master & Commander - first published in 1969, this novel has one of the best meetings of two delightful types ever written. When John "Jack" Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin find each other, the adventure - and an unparalleled friendship - really begins.
Post Captain - first published in 1972
HMS Surprise - first published in 1973 and my absolute favorite of all the books. I've cried over this one for sorrow and joy. Nothing beats Jack and the crew of Surprise saving their beloved Dr. Maturin from the French.
The Mauritius Command - first published in 1977
Desolation Island - first published in 1978
The Fortune of War - first published in 1979. Jack and Stephen as prisoners of war in Boston during the War of 1812 and, after their escape with Stephen's future wife, Jack's indelicate blunder in Canada will follow him for years to come.
The Surgeon's Mate - first published in 1980
The Ionian Mission - first published in 1981
Treason's Harbor - first published in 1983
The Far Side of the World - first published in 1984. A wonderful story (that is so superior to the movie that you really should read it and not miss out) including a nasty love triangle among the crew that goes horribly wrong.
The Reverse of the Medal - first published in 1986. Based on the true story of Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane's fall from grace over a false accusation of "jobbing the stock market". Another tear jerker for me.
The Letter of Marque - first published in 1988. Jack, Stephen and Surprise turn to privateering.
The Thirteen Gun Salute - first published in 1989
The Nutmeg of Consolation - first published in 1991
The Truelove - first published in 1992. Published in England as Clarissa Oakes and, in that case, named after the only sympathetic female character in the entire series.
The Wine Dark Sea - first published in 1993
The Commodore - first published in 1994
The Yellow Admiral - first published in 1995. My second favorite of the bunch features Stephen once again very quietly taking care of another of Jack's unfortunate problems. Jack is lucky not only in prizes, but in his particular friend.
The Hundred Days - first published in 1998
Blue at the Mizzen - first published in 1999
21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey - first published in 2004. This is a tantalizing and heartbreaking book for O'Brian fans. He was working on it when he died and it has so much promise. One can only imagine what might have been.
Anyone who claims a love of the sea should pick up at least one of these novels. I can guarantee, you will not be disappointed.
Rest in peace, Monsieur. Smooth sailing and fair winds for all eternity.