'Other people's marriages are a perpetual source of amazement'
The Commodore opens with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin returning to England. Stephen is preparing to see his wife Diana and meet his daughter Brigid for the first time after an absence of years – a meeting that turns out to be less joyful than hoped. Jack Aubrey, now raised to the rank of Commodore, is anticipating a short shore leave before his next mission. He is soon given the command of a squadron, bound for West Africa to fight against the slave trade. But the mission has another, secret purpose: the intercepting of a French fleet bound for the west coast of Ireland to aid rebels there. Conflicts within the squadron abound, as Jack clashes with the other captains. Meanwhile, Stephen falls dangerously ill with yellow fever – but not before cataloguing some of the rare beasts and birds of Sierra Leone, including the enchanting potto.
Read more about the life and work of Patrick O'Brian
In 1991, an article appeared in The New York Times entitled ‘An Author I’d Walk the Plank For’. Like millions of readers around the world, the writer, Richard Snow, had become addicted to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series. Set against the sprawling canvas of the Napoleonic Wars, O’Brian’s naval adventure novels evoke this period in history like no others. Their success is down to the vim and vigour of O’Brian’s prose, his extraordinary eye for period detail and his ear for language. In Snow’s words: ‘O’Brian summoned up with casual omniscience the workaday magic of a vanished time.’
The partnership between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is at the heart of Patrick O’Brian’s masterful series. Beyond the beautifully textured period setting and the thrilling skirmishes and naval battles (many based on real events), the popularity of the novels stems from these two engaging, intriguing protagonists, with Aubrey’s passionate nature providing a marvellous foil for Maturin’s more enigmatic character. Two centuries may separate us from them, but O’Brian creates an utterly compelling portrait of two men and a world at war.