Consisting of just three chapters, a preliminary long-hand sketch of what would surely have been another wonderful novel, there is still much to savour in 21. Here are Jack and Stephen back with us again, and though we don't know where their voyage would have taken them in this book, we see them being happy—both of them with their families, Stephen with his dissections and his spy work, Jack with his admiral's flag.
The book reproduces both O'Brian's partial typescript, and his long-hand manuscript, which allows for a wonderful glimpse of the marginalia—his little sketches of the seating arrangements at the dinner table, and the tiny, touching comment that I am absurdly sleepy, a reminder that when O'Brian was writing this, he was eighty-five and lonely. I do wish that they'd transcribed the part of the manuscript which continues on after the transcript—O'Brian's handwriting is very difficult to read, and is often heavily crossed out. It's frustrating to have just a little bit more, right there on the page in front of you, and to lack the palaeographical skills to make it out.