Well, I am racing through these books like a frigate before the wind … ahem. If I read all 19 in the series and write at my usual length you will be bored to tears. So here are a couple of quotations instead, both involving Stephen Maturin. (Here’s a question, though, for the O’Brian fans among you: Do readers generally identify with Jack Aubrey or Maturin? The way there are cat people or dog people? Temperamentally I find myself much more similar to Stephen.) Here he is at a low moment, writing in his secret coded journal about Catalan independence and the state of man in general: “Hatred the only moving force, a petulant unhappy striving — childhood the only happiness, and that unknowing; then the continual battle that cannot ever possibly be won; a losing fight against ill-health — poverty for nearly all. Life is a long disease with only one termination and its last years are appalling… senses going, friends, family, occupation gone, a man must pray for imbecility or a heart of stone.” The ambiguity is vintage O’Brian: Stephen begins by writing about Catalan affairs but by the end, is surely writing about life in general… and in a very depressive state.
But earlier, O’Brian has Stephen joining the ship (the Lively, in Post Captain) “dressed from head to foot in a single tight dull-brown garment; it clung to him, and his pale, delighted face emerged from a woolen roll at the top, looking unnaturally large. His general appearance was something between that of an attenuated ape and a meagre heart; and he was carrying his narwhal horn.” Truly there is something for everyone in these books.