‘The Ionian Mission’, P. O’Brian

I today had the opportunity to finish the first of Patrick O’Brian’s novels that I’ve tried to read. This happened to be ‘The Ionian Mission’ which perhaps was not a serendipitous choice due to it taking place somewhere in the middle of the Aubrey/Maturin storyline so that some of what was before might have been helpful for me and there’s a certain interest in following it to the end.

However, from the point of view of a stand-alone, this worked rather well and I found it nice to see that Mr O’Brian had managed to explain naval terminology in a way which did not appear too forced, keeping it in the story.

So, overall I enjoyed this book for what it is — a beautiful story of naval life and naval warfare. However, while my overall impression is definitely positive, then I would not choose to re-read this book (unless I was going through the entire storyline at some point in the distant future). How so?

To make it brief, I found O’Brian’s style rather off-putting: no, not the speech and impression of the late 18th century it tried to leave, but rather the paragraphs which more often than not were a page long. I found that it was difficult trying to juggle these paragraphs and still do other things at the same time, since keeping track of the position in the text was rather difficult. While this is certainly not a major complaint and not very relevant in and of itself, I wish it would have been different. And that is enough.

The level of detail created by the author is, however, very real and thrilling. As an example, at some point in the story the officers hold a poetry competition, and this would be one of the wonderful poems with great promise in there…

But on arrival at Fleet’s anchorage, there
A very sad story did we next hear,
That Buenos Ayres had been retaken
And our little army very much shaken.

But a small re-enforcement from the Cape
Induced the Commodore to try a feat,
To reduce Monte Video ’twas his intent,
But which proved abortive in the event.

Mind you, I am a bit confused how this poem is an example of great detail, but I really couldn’t be bothered enough to find something that mentioned sails and other naval things. That poem is what I managed to remain in my mind more than the other items…

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