Writing about the writing in Patrck O’Brian’s splendid novel The Post Captain requires an act of humility. As an example of the potential glories of written English, this book is a nonpareil. There were times during my reading of this second in the Aubrey/Maturin nautical series that I nearly shook my head in disbelief at the sheer beauty of the prose and how it varies from character to character and situation to situation.
The story and all its tendrils constantly entertain. Love, battle, deceit, secrecy, the rigors of command, jealousy, shipboard life, castles in Spain, and duel planning are all here. There’s even a reference to Congreve for those who are partial to rocketry and fireworks.
This latter rocketry reference, though, points out for me one of the downsides of these novels. The books seem so well researched and the settings so well articulated that, inevitably, a non-salt such as myself draws a blank about some of the references. For example, I had a very hard time picturing why the Polychrest was such a challenge in command for Aubrey. Something about the ship looking like it was going in two directions at once?
No matter. I’ve already borrowed the third book in the series.