What better way to mark the O’Brian’s centenary than by jumping on board with Captain Jack?
I have travelled the seas with Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and, I hope to tempt you to set sail on the “Aubreyiad”. I won’t deny that there are mentions of futtock shrouds, bowsprits and even main-studding-sails (just don’t try to say this out loud). Each of the novels begins with a diagram showing the 21 sails of a square-rigged ship. This may give the impression that you need to know – indeed care – about such things. This is only true to the extent that, to enjoy an episode of ER, you must understand the full implications of: “give me an ABG, CBC, chem 7, cardiac enzymes, and coag panel”. It’s possible to let it all wash over you – like the fast-talking political detail in The West Wing, or the slang in The Wire – and form a general impression of whether the wind is causing problems or the French ship is about to sink. (On the other hand, you could consult A Sea of Words, one of several guides to Jack’s world.) O’Brian is never heavy-handed with his research: it’s simply that the books are set in a perfectly realised world, which happens to be a ship at war.
There is vastly more to Jack than fair winds and rigging. For one thing, there is Stephen, the brilliant, bold, enigmatic Irish-Catalan naturalist-surgeon-spy. Although Jack doesn’t write up his physical charms, I’ve got a huge crush on Stephen: he is obsessional and secretive, but also fiercely intelligent, moral and passionate. For book after book, I willed the gloriously lithe Diana Villiers to succumb to his pursuit.