Master and Commander (Aubrey & Maturin, #1) Master and Commander discussion


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Master and Commander

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Emily Wow, this took me forever to read, and I'm not sure why. I found it fairly interesting and enjoyable. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. For some reason, though, I had a superhard time getting through it. What did you guys think of it overall? I know that Joshua and Anna both had a good impression of it last time I talked to them. Some spoilers ahead, so if you haven't finished it, don't read.

Things I liked:
I enjoyed the characters he portrayed. They were likeable people without being perfect. I liked Aubrey, Maturin, and Dillon. They were obviously flawed, all in different ways, but they were also interesting main characters. Stephen's unfamiliarity with seamanship also helped get across important exposition.

The historical detail was intense. I know so much more about the Royal Navy than I did, and even now I feel like a know maybe an infinitesimally small fraction of what Patrick O'Brien knows.

The sea battles were epic and a lot of fun.

Favorite quote: pg 500 in my copy: "He derives a greater pleasure from a smaller stream of wit than any man I have every known." Said about Jack Aubrey by James Dillon after a particularly bad pun. It made me laugh.

Things I didn't like:
The plot felt unbalanced and kind of all over the place. I think he knew more about sea maneuvers than how to construct a plot so that it flowed smoothly. Most of the main character conflicts are tied up in the battle with Cacafuegos near the end. James Dillon dies in battle as he wanted to, the captain takes out the ship that has been following him, several minor character arcs are tied up, and all of Aubrey's former disgrace is washed away and he is in line for a promotion. That is all well and good, but then the novel inexplicably continues and Jack is disgraced again, given a no-account job, and captured. He spends the final and most intense battle watching from the shore and the climax then becomes whether or not he is cleared in a court-martial. That felt weird to me. I feel like the capture, disgrace, and court-martial should have been in the beginning of the third act or something, with the battle of the Cacafuegos at the end as the climax. Did anyone else feel like that?

I also found it annoying how O'Brien would skip really important scenes, describe characters reactions to it, and then would go back and tell those scenes in flashbacks. He would end a paragraph in an important sea battle or right before an important conversation, and then would start the next paragraph with the captain and his officers talking, or Stephen writing in his journal about his difficulties. Then they would describe what had just happened in between the two paragraphs. Stephen one time wrote for a while about how he regretted a certain conversation between him and Dillon, and then O'Brien enacted the scene that Stephen was writing about. Why not just tell the story in order? It felt choppy to me.

I disliked almost all the scenes on shore. The characters did not seem to me to act reasonably, apart from their abysmal morals. They were all just very odd.

Those were some of the things I liked and disliked about it. Overall, I thought it was a good read. A much better success than any of our previous choices. Nice work, Anna! What did you all think?


C.T. Liotta Hey Emily! I love Patrick O'Brian in general (just made my latest story a homage to this series, semi-satirically). You're not wrong. I think that modern mass-market fiction demands clarity and is less willing to take risks and experiment with odd narrative structure. I love that we're trusted to study or shrug off what we don't understand. If somebody queried an agent with "Master and Commander" today, I expect that it would be rejected outright. Reminds me a little bit of John Le Carre in that regard.


Emily Interesting perspective. I think that I both disagree with you and agree with you. I think you are right that the modern fiction market favors a certain kind of narrative structure. It's more streamlined, action-focused, and way less description. Far fewer long books are being written. Master and Commander was written in the heyday of the technological thriller, with the likes of Tom Clancy and other huge novels that include heavy details. Nowadays, I think an editor would cut a significant amount of the detail in this novel and would advise O'Brian to use more context clues to make the novel more readable. In some ways that would be good (the book can be overwhelming) but I also think it would lose something in the process. However, the narrative structure of Master and Commander simply seemed not well-planned. It kind of threw me off pace and I don't think that it is simply a matter of mass-market trends. I just think he was not great at pacing and narrative structure. No author can be good at everything; with such interesting characters and such a wealth of historical detail, some aspects are bound to be weaker.


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