Age of Sail / Book Review / Book Series / Jack Aubrey / Nautical Fiction / Patrick Obrian / Royal Navy / Stephen Maturin

The Far Side of the World, by Patrick O’Brian

Once again we follow the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey, a British naval officer, and Stephen Maturin, Aubrey’s particular friend, ship surgeon, and spy. The Far Side of the World, an excellent navy fiction novel by Patrick O’Brian, is the book that gave name to the movie with the same title, which featured Russell Crow as Jack Aubrey.

In this book, Captain Aubrey and his ship, H.M.S. Surprise, have been sent to hunt down the American frigate Norfolk during the War of 1812. USS Norfolk, according to British intelligence, plans to attack British whalers in the South Seas. As usual, Jack makes all haste to have Surprise victualled (“there is not a moment to be lost”). He also recruits a new master, Mr. Allen, who is an excellent seaman and has in-depth knowledge of whalers. As well, Stephen Maturin persuades Jack to take Mr. Martin along with them, a clergyman and naturalist who Jack approves of and who is unhappy with his current ship.

The mission turns out somewhat differently from what was expected. HMS Surprise encounters many setbacks and suffers delays in Brazil from a lightning-struck prow before it rounds Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean to locate the Norfolk. There they quickly learn that Norfolk has captured and burnt several whalers.

The Far Side of the World is, of course, a book of naval battles and prizes, but also one of intelligence work in the early nineteenth century, of international intrigue, as well as of shipboard romance, illicit affairs, shipwrecks, and murder. And, as usual, there is plenty of humor, irony, and sarcasm as well!

The Far Side of the World is an intelligent, very fascinating book about British naval life during the Napoleonic wars with a good plot. It provides very interesting and relatively accurate insights into the world of seamanship and His Majesty’s Navy. Both the book and the movie are very enjoyable and quite absorbing. Being a reader, however, I prefer the book!

Praise for The Far Side of the World:

A world of enchanting fictional surfaces.
– John Bayley – New York Review of Books

Like Aubrey and Maturin playing Mozart duets beneath a Pacific moon, he works elegant variations on the tradition of the seafaring adventure story.

– Thoma Flanagan, New York Times Book Review