November 20, 2002

The Hundred Days, by Patrick O'Brian

Being at home sick for a day, I put the Burton bio aside for awhile and picked up this, the penultimate volume in O'Brian's long, long saga. I've gotten the impression from little things I've seen here and there that many fans don't think much of it; and to be fair it never really seems to catch fire. Plus, O'Brian did some really obnoxious things. The book begins with a passing mention of the death of Stephen's wife Diana; and toward the end another of my favorite continuing characters is killed with hardly any notice taken--and to no literary end that I can see.

Apart from that it's a pleasant enough book; lots of nautical to-ing and fro-ing about the Mediterranean Sea and a few nice sea battles, with the escaped Bonaparte floating about Europe and a complicated Islamic plot to help him back into power. Of course, by the time Aubrey succeeds in forestalling said plot Wellington has succeeded in defeating Bonaparte at Waterloo, rendering the whole thing rather moot.

I have some suspicions on where O'Brian might have been going. I say "might have been", because I haven't yet read the final book, Blue at the Mizzen, and because he had just begun writing a subsequent book when he died. But in the previous book, The Yellow Admiral, Stephen meets a lovely woman, a naturalist in her own right, and the wife of the governor of Sierra Leone. Though she doesn't appear in this book she's mentioned a number of times; and it's rather pointedly mentioned that (1) the governor has just died, and (2) the marriage was not as happy as it appeared to be, and in fact was never consummated. It begins to look as though O'Brian was getting Diana out of the way, so as to interest Stephen in somebody new.

So I'm quite curious to see what happens in Blue at the Mizzen, a book about which I've heard none of the unpleasant little whispers. But that's a tale for next month.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 20, 2002 06:55 PM