Reviews of Far Side of the World, the (1984)
Review by SlowRain (2006-05-11)
This is the second book that I've read by Patrick O'Brian, the other one being the first in his Aubrey/Maturin series "Master and Commander". These two books were, more or less, combined for the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World". They revolve around the continuing adventures, or misadventures, of Captain Jack Aubrey and ship's surgeon/secret agent Stephen Maturin as they sail around the 19th century world, carrying out their orders in service of the British crown.
The plot to either book is irrelevant as it only comes into play at the beginning when they get their orders, and then at the end when they eventually carry them out. The bulk of the books consist of the innumerable obstacles they encounter along the way, often times even overshadowing the bigger mission they are on. If we weren't reminded of the mission through bits of conversation now and again, we would forget that there is even a purpose for them being where they are, as there is little thread to connect one event to another, much less pull the reader to any conclusion.
I found the writing in this one to be much more even than the first one in the series, so obviously the author has improved. There is nothing overly compelling to his narrative style; in fact, only once during a storm did I feel particularly engaged by his words. He also had a painfully obvious discourse on whaling, which didn't fit in anywhere, so he tried to "casually" hide it in a lengthy conversation. The result is kind of like having a big toe on your hand next to your little finger: cool to impress your friends with, but rather awkward. However, the banter between his characters is quite unique to the times, and enjoyable to one who hasn't read much about that time period.
The saving grace for these books is the setting: a British frigate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For those interested in the historical life of sailors, these books are quite a treasure. They offer a glimpse into a time and lifestyle that is far removed from our own. We get quite detailed descriptions of the duties, living conditions, food, experiences, and challenges they faced. However, if you take that away - or if you are not interested in that topic - the plot, characters and narrative offer little for most readers. I'll maybe read one every couple of years.