Patrick O’Brian

The Far Side of the World

Aubrey/Maturin Book 10


At times I felt it was a bit easy for O’Brian – he could just have any old thing happen – where is the need for plausibility as the ocean can throw up whatever he likes at any time without explanation: treasure; disease; defeat; a typhoon. Jack Aubrey’s story so far has had plenty to go on with, but here at times it felt like you were on fast forward. I’ve criticised, for example, George R.R. Martin for being too random. But in his defence, that’s partly O’Brian’s deliberate historical point – which is really hammered home


in the last few chapters as the dice rolls here and there for the US and RN castaways. I’m sure there were more bland and predictable sea journeys at the time (such as the tedious blockade of the previous book), but bland and predictable were the last thing you could reasonably expect if you’re heading to the far side of the world at this time (incidentally, also a time of war). I do love the way that O’Brian allows his hero’s careful, shrewd and desperate plans coupled with Herculean efforts to be overturned in a moment because of a vagary of the weather.


O’Brian has such an overwhelming amount of dramatic and incredible historical incidents to draw on from this period, part of his craft is deciding how to measure them out. We do accept that as fictional heroes Aubrey and Maturin will have more than their fair share of them, although it would be interesting to know if biographically there would be some genuine characters that could say, “Is that all – you should hear my story,” in contrast. I found the falling off the ship/getting picked up by amazon-Islanders/being picked up from a reef harder to cope with than the usual sensational events – hence the focus in this review on credibility – but I dare say O’Brian could point to dozens of equally unlikely events (even if there were thousands more which resulted in less surprising death).


Meanwhile the quality of the writing continues to be excellent, and I can’t imagine a more enjoyable way to package some of the fascinating events of this period.


April 2013