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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin become particular friends, 15 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
A movie that is adopted from a novel presents the eternal quandary as to whether you should read the novel before or after seeing the film. However, with the release today of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of World" you have a unique opportunity to do both. Although we have assumed this Russell Crowe film was an amalgam of the first and tenth novels in the series of twenty written by Patrick O'Brien starting in 1970, that is not the case. The film is based squarely on "The Far Side of the World," although certainly liberties have been taken with translating the work to the screen (the enemy ship is now a French vessel in 1805 durng the Napoleonic Wars instead of an American ship during the War of 1812). This means that reading "Master and Commander" before seeing the film would actually work to your advantage, because you would then understand the relationship between "Lucky" Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, which begins in this first novel.
On the first of April in the year 1800 two of the most important things in his life happen to John Aubrey, Esquire. Not only is he appointed Commander of His Majesty's Sloop "Sophie," but he makes the acquaintance of Dr. Maturin. Aubrey, who is taller and broad shouldered, plays the violin, which the smaller Maturin plays the cello. Aubrey is the embodiment of an English seaman while Maturin is an absent-minded intellectual. Outside of their love of music there is little to recommend one to the other, but this is the beginning of one of the great friendships in literature. Many times we will be reminded through these books that each is the other's particular friend, and that friendship begins here. Consequently, you can read "Master and Commander" and it will enhance you experience of watching the movie because it provides all you really need to know about the back story concerning this deep friendship which is a recurring subtext of the film.
Aubrey's first command, H.M.S. "Sophie," is an old, slow brig and unlikely to help him fulfill his dream of making a fortune in captured French and Spanish prizes, all of which are bigger and better than his small ship. If there is a theme to this first novel it is the story of how Jack Aubrey came to earn the sobriquet "Lucky," and how he pushed that luck right to edge, and a bit beyond. In the telling of this tale O'Brian amply demonstrates both Aubrey's capacities and his vulnerabilities, both of which are explored in future volumes.
You have to think of this as a series rather than a novel, because after reading this book and seeing the movie you want to progress to the second O'Brian volume, "Post Captain," and not skip ahead to "The Far Side of the World." This is not Horatio Hornblower; these Aubrey-Maturin novels were written in order and the first half-dozen volumes are the ones most grounded in naval history (O'Brian liked to take real engagements and add his characters and their ship into the mix). For his 21st birthday I got my son the entire 20-volume series and one of the many excellent companion volumes that are out there.
Just be aware that if you get the movie tie-in editions of "Master and Commander" and/or "The Far Side of the World" that they are slightly larger than the standard paperback editions. Consequently when they are all lined up on your bookcase having them is going to keep your collection from looking shipshape.
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Lawrance Bernabo
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Location: The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota

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