Master & Comander

On the day that it is due back to the public library, I finally finished Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. It is a long, detailed book. My favourite character, and indeed, the thing that kept me reading through until the end, was Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon and a naturalist at heart. He fits the type of the poor scholar, has a wry wit and an easy sensibility.

‘You are always in such a hurry,’ said Stephen peevishly, groping among his possessions. A Montpellier snake glided out with a dry rustling sound and traversed the room in a series of extraordinarily elegant curves, its head held up some eighteen inches above the ground.

‘Oh, oh, oh,’ cried Jack, leaping on to a chair. ‘A snake!’

‘Will these do?’ asked Stephen. ‘They have a hole in them.’

‘Is it poisonous?’

‘Extremely so. I dare say it will attack you directly. I have very little doubt of it. Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted stockings, sure the hole would not show: but then, I should stifle with heat. Do you not find it uncommonly hot?’

*

‘You are an antinomian,’ said Jack.

‘I am a pragmatist,’ said Stephen. ‘Come, let us drink up our wine.’

The film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World combines the first, second, and tenth books of the series (of which there are 21). The film, it seems, takes bits and pieces from each of these, casts the setting as the south Pacific, and strings them all together into a single narrative. If I read any more of the Aubrey & Maturin series, it will be to see if Maturin does get to go to the Galapagos after all.

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