Brad's Reviews > H.M.S. 'Surprise'

H.M.S. 'Surprise' by Patrick O'Brian
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May 18, 12

bookshelves: aubrey-maturin, irish-lit, north-atlantic, nautical, audio-book
Read from April 18 to May 18, 2012, read count: 4

I like listening to this book better than reading it, I think. This one is steeped in the emotional lives of Jack and Stephen. It's the first that really starts showing us how deeply these men feel about each other and the others they care about, and hearing it rather than reading it adds a level of intimacy that increases the novel's emotional satisfaction.

It opens with Stephen's torture at the hands of the French, and Jack's daring rescue. Captain Jack cares for his wounded friend with a tenderness that belies his massive frame, and he can't help but be rattled by the state in which he finds Stephen.

HMS Surprise continues in this vein, moving from emotional moment to emotional moment. Jack loves Sophie Williams, but cannot marry her because he is arrested for debt and Mrs. Williams wants a rich man for her daughter, not just a rank or name. It cuts Jack to the quick.

Stephen loves Diana Villiers (Sophie's cousin), but she has run off with Canning, a much liked Jewish merchant with interests in Diana's birth home -- India. Stephen also comes to love a little street urchin named Dill, and he eventually loses both Diana (for now) and Dill (forever). And he kills Canning in a rather spooky dual, where Stephen, even with his torture-warped hands and a bullet in his chest, manages to end the dual with the death of his rival. Death and heartache are Stephen's lot.

And then Jack and Diana, and Bonden and Killick and all the Sophies (the crewmen of Jack's first ship), are in a deep state of dread that Stephen will not make it through the infection left behind by his surgery (which he himself performed) -- and the love that they all feel for the too intense, rather ugly, brilliantly talented doctor is revealed.

Listening to Simon Vance bring this to life increases the intimacy for the reader/listener, making this a rare case when the audio book increased my enjoyment. I wonder if this will happen again? There're still 18 books to listen to. Perhaps it will.
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Quotes Brad Liked

Patrick O'Brian
“The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress, slow, serious trouble with the mainmast-- unaccountable headwinds by night-- and sipping a glass of grog; Stephen was in the mizentop, teaching Bonden to write and scanning the sea for his first albatross. The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. 'Try a piece of this, old cock,' he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. 'It might put a little heart into you.' The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.

Some minutes later he felt a touch upon his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying toward the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.

'In this bucket,' said Stephen, walking into the cabin, 'in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London, and Paris combined: these animalculae-- what is the matter with the sloth?' It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable bleary face, shook it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.

Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, 'Jack, you have debauched my sloth.”
Patrick O'Brian, H.M.S. Surprise


Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Kelly Maybedog (new)

Kelly Maybedog I so love stories where men can be intimate with/about one another.


Brad Oh God, me too. It is so rare but beautiful.


message 3: by Kelly Maybedog (new)

Kelly Maybedog That's why I like the Cal Leandros series (the first one is Nightlife). They're brothers but there is a third (bisexual!) character who is also close with them. It's nice.


Brad Sounds promising.


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