Wednesday Book: Home on the rolling deep

THE HUNDRED DAYS BY PATRICK O'BRIAN, HARPERCOLLINS, pounds 16.99

IF C S FORESTER was the Navy's Mozart, Patrick O'Brian is its Beethoven. Better or worse are irrelevant comparatives. Nor is there any need to deprive oneself of the pleasure of the latter out of a misplaced loyalty to the former. Certainly, the dozens of British and American admirals, ambassadors, novelists, musicians and secret service agents who recently toasted O'Brian at a 370-strong celebration dinner in the Painted Hall at Greenwich saw no reason to qualify their adulation.

O'Brian's hugely celebrated epic of the British Navy between 1800 and 1815 has brought together perhaps the most unlikely combination of admirers in the annals of reading. At the dinner, William Waldegrave compared him to Homer, Mark Knopfler rubbed shoulders with the heads of MI5 and MI6, Danielle Steele and Rose Tremain tapped feet to the Beating of the Retreat. Go into any bookshop come publication day and the queue panting for their copy of The Hundred Days will include young and old, male and female, dreamers and sportsmen, philosophers and explorers.

Some have grown up with O'Brian - the first in the series was written in 1970. Others, myself included, came upon him more recently and read them in a tidal wave of energy. Most have returned to read them all through again. What we're talking about with a new O'Brian is a kind of Father Christmas letter about a much-loved and ever-growing family of characters in an unerringly authentic and gloriously patriotic setting. High endeavours alternate with everyday grinds, subtle dilemmas with love affairs, tragedy with comedy. Why wouldn't we like them?

But if you are an O'Brian virgin, beware of trying to jump aboard in mid-voyage. The Hundred Days is better described as the 19th chapter than the 19th book in his 6,300-page long series. Although its publishers insist that it can stand alone, to start here would be like listening to a cello with a duster stuffed in its sound-box. You will miss the echoes and resonances, the variations on a host of themes, that stretch back through the last 18 books. Worst of all, you will fail to understand why, on arrival at page four of The Hundred Days, there will be all over the O'Brian world great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a general donning of sackcloth and ashes, as his hundreds of thousands of fans absorb the most unjust literary shock since Part VI of Jude the Obscure. Go and buy the first in the series (Master and Commander) and leave me to commiserate with the converted.

How can I soften the blow (the nature of which I have no intention of revealing, although crasser critics will do so)? I could tell you that it is, for all that initial shock, worth reading on. That we are back in the vessel Surprise and in the Mediterranean. That this is a much meatier book than The Yellow Admiral. That Aubrey fights some splendid actions and teeters between glory and ruin. That Maturin almost meets his match among the wily Arabs, but also adds to his formidable collection of natural phenomena. That there is promise in the book's sunset of a new dawn.

And finally, having lured you thus far, I can, sadly, promise that its recurring leitmotif is one of the subtlest sketchings of deep, deep grief in literature.

Now for comfits. How about a CD of Musical Evenings with the Captain (Morr Music, 13 Bank Square, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 1AN), a compilation of the sort of pieces that Aubrey and Maturin played together in their cabin, complete with an essay by the Master on the music in ordinary people's lives at the time? Or you could get stuck into recipes for Drowned Baby, Archipel Flottant and Soused Hog's Face from Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Liza Grossman Thomas's Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, "Which is a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels" (Norton). Never mind "first catch your hare", we're talking syllabubs in which you milk the cow into the bowl and fritters made from the swordfish which happened to pierce the True-love's hull.

Or you could buy the recently reprinted The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore (both HarperCollins), the first two books O'Brian wrote. Both about Anson's circumnavigation of the world in 1740, they star a couple of midshipmen who, by all accounts, bear a striking resemblance to Aubrey and Maturin in youth. Or you could go down to "Woolcombe, or Woolhampton as some say", and leave a bunch of lilies at Maiden Oscott bridge.

Christina Hardyment

Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices