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am 20. Februar 2000
About five years ago I was introduced to the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. I first read The Wine Dark Sea, and then I returned to the beginning of the series and promptly read all of the books in the series.
In recent years, I have eagerly awaited the release of new books in the series. And, Blue at the Mizzen was worth the wait.
The Aubrey and Maturin characters have evolved as individuals, as they have aged and had other experiences in life. Unlike most of the earlier books in the series, Blue at the Mizzen features Dr. Maturin to a greater degree than the brooding Capt. Aubrey whose concern over his future makes him more remote to both Maturin and to the reader. After O'Brian killed off Dr. Maturin's wife in The Hundred Days, Dr. Maturin surprisingly develops a romantic interest in a fellow naturalist, Christine Wood. Their romantic episode is odd, but given Maturin's character, that is not really surprising.
As usual, a lot happens in this book, but as in the other books, O'Brian often unleashes the action in a understated or offhanded way. Events happen with little or no warning or with minimal discussion. The intelligence activities involving the Republic of Chile are not as clearly described, for example, as Maturin's South American intelligence activities in The Wine Dark Sea. As with other books in the series, the action sometimes is secondary to the activities on the ship, the relationships of the main and minor characters, and Maturin's focus on the birds and beasts that they encounter. Even so, Blue on the Mizzen was an enjoyable book that held my interest.
How does it compare with the other books in the series? Good question. Personally, I liked it better than The Yellow Admiral, which spent too much time on shore. Unlike other reader reviewers, however, I equally enjoyed both The Hundred Days and Blue at the Mizzen. The early books are wonderful, but even these later books are very good.
For someone who has read any of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, I would not suggest that you start with Blue at the Mizzen. Instead, the O'Brian novice should start with the earliest books in the series. For someone who has read the other Aubrey/Maturin novels, Blue at the Mizzen should be a "must read" book. It is the last one in the series due to O'Brian's recent death. If O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin formula is aging by book #20 in the series, it is still a fine formula that still works in #20. Blue at the Mizzen is a worthy end to the series.
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am 30. Januar 2000
A few years ago, I happened to be traveling in Kazhakstan, and met up with a fellow westerner. We struck up a friendly conversation when I noticed he was reading an Aubrey-Maturin novel. "Oh yes, I love them." he said, "But I've got only two more to go. And when I finish, I don't know what I'll do." I knew exactly what he meant; at least back then we could look ahead to the indefatigable Patrick O'Brian's ongoing output.
But now we're done for. I read "Blue at the Mizzen" two weeks after the sad news of O'Brian's death. As I closed in on the ending, the lump in my throat had nothing to do with the resolution of the plot. And it wasn't really for the drying-up of this amazing flow of dialog and description. Like all great literature, the books will be there forever, to be re-read with pleasure and recommended to friends and family. No, it was for poor Jack and Stephen. Because by now I know well how long it takes to sail around the Horn and I could tell by the number of pages remaining that the tale would end-with the usual flurry of action-but that the two particular friends would still be standing out to sea, far from England. Like Capt. Cook, the great navigator the stories owe so much too, Aubrey and Maturin are triumphant and ever hopeful, but their bones can never rest at home.
If you are a reader of the series, there is no question that you are going to read this book. The only worry is the details. Buy now, or wait for the paperback edition? I say, go for it. And be assured that O'Brian went out at the top of his form. "The Hundred Days" seemed hackneyed and tired, but "Blue at the Mizzen" has all the dialog, the detail and intrigue, all the warmth of the best of the series. It isn't quite the masterpiece some of the earlier books were, but that's just because the characterizations are so familiar that it can't stand on its own. I definitely wouldn't recommend a reader new to the series begin here.
It starts in the Mediterranean, returns to England by way of Madeira, and then sails for South America to do some urgent meddling in Chilean politics at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks. Along the way, we get familiar notes from Jack and Stephen and a set of bit characters, deftly drawn, and that glorious sense of being contained in a little world on the great ocean. Finally, we get to Chile and find things are quite muddled. It will take all of Maturin's cunning and all of Aubrey's dash to sort the matter out, which of course they do. But then it ends. And, if you're like me, you'll sit for awhile and think of all the times you've been transported by Jack and Stephen-and all the Surprises. You can go back, but you can't go on. It's a fine thing, but a sad thing.
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am 31. Oktober 1999
Even though I believe that the Aubrey-Maturin series is one of the great works of prose fiction of the 20th century, the latest (and 20th) book in the series, Blue at the Mizzen, is a disappointment. Indeed the last few books in the series (starting with the Wine-Dark Sea, have gotten progressively weaker, but even they have always had many compelling pages. The great humor, the exciting naval action, the lovely historical feel, but above all the wonderful language and psychological acuity are missing here. The female characters are, no surprise, mere plot devices. (Both Sophie and Clarissa barely figure, and the smart and beautiful Mrs. Wood, who Maturin falls for, makes little sense as a character.) But the subordinate characters in general lack interest, even the prominently featured midshipman Hansen, the bastard son of the Duke of Clarence. The local color in early 19th century Chile seems washed out, insubstantial. Worst of all, the two principals are presented pro forma, as if O'Brian is just tired of them. While there is a satisfying (finally) move up to Admiral for Aubrey, the story (with no more Napoleonic foes, and no more money worries) has run out of gas. Is this the last of the novels? Aubrey-Maturin fans will be disappointed that we have lost track of Pullings, Babbington, Mowett, and Martin completely-what happened to them? Where oh where is to Aubrey's illegitimate son, Sam Panda, last seen in nesrby Peru-and why do Jack's thoughts never run to him? This is, of course, a must-read for Aubrey-Maturin fans, but compared to the invigorating, full-blooded novels in the series, this one reads like the weak, lukewarm tea that Jack and Stephen so detest.
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am 29. November 1999
I wasn't a great fan of the predecessor to this book (The Hundred Days) as it seemed that a lot of life had been sucked out of the series. I then re-read the set from Master and Commander to Blue at The Mizzen.
While the books have changed somewhat, in that they have become less descriptive of the interrelationships between the characters, this is understandable. As Aubrey gets more senior (here for much of the time he is an acting Commodore with a small squadron) the books have to describe a much bigger naval and political picture. O'Brian excels at this.
Unfortunately this means we lose some of the "small ship" feeling, and many of the best characters from earlier in the series are left out. Isn't this a function of life - not only Aubrey and Maturin's but also most readers? As we move on in the world relationships change and we interact with different people. In addition O'Brian would have difficulty in weaving in many old characters and maintaining the sense of historical accuracy that is important to his books (this is however not a justification for Aubrey's lack of response to Bonden's death in the previous book).
Read the whole series from book one and then enjoy this and its predecessor (The Hundred Days). Both books then fall into much better context.
Keep it up Mr O'Brian - you are doing an excellent job. I fervently hope that the unanswered questions surrounding Stephen and Christine Wood (as well as where Aubrey goes from here) mean that we can hope for one more (and preferably more than one) book and a couple of large fleet actions!
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am 15. Januar 2000
Interested reader,
If you are reading these reviews, chances are good you are wondering what all this stuff about Patrick O'Brian and the "Aubrey/Maturin" series is about. Wonder no longer.
"Blue at the Mizzen" represents the last volume of what is overall a rich, wonderful collection of literature. While I've read the disappointment that some have had with the last few books in the series, I respectfully offer the view of a reader who feels touched forever by the author's hand and grateful for having read this series in the first place.
Once you read "Master and Commander," chances are excellent you will adopt Aubrey and Maturin to be among your favorite characters of all time. Who could not chuckle when Stephen Maturin tries yet again trying to come aboard the ship without falling overboard? Who could not envision Killick's severe expressions when Aubrey gets grease on his number one uniform, or become anxious whenever Aubrey sets foot upon land? Who could not feel the loss of a shipmate sent over the side? It is sad to note that we finally see Aubrey make his flag as we get the news that Mr. O'Brian has made his number.
I believe that "Blue at the Mizzen" and all the other books in the series need to be looked at by the prospective reader in total. If you have never read from this series, start with "Master and Commander," and I will guarantee that if you like this first volume and continue through the series, you will be touched by a truly masterful hand.
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am 31. Oktober 1999
Appreciation of novels -- like music, movies, and just about every thing else -- is ultimately a subjective experience. I have loved the Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin novels for many years, reading (and re-reading) each new entry in the series with interest. "Blue at the Mizzen" may possibly be the last novel in the series, if what Patrick O'Brian said a few years ago is true. I hope that is not the case but if it is, then "Blue at the Mizzen" would serve well enough as the end. I won't spoil the plot for anyone, but I will say that it advances the stories of the two central characters to new levels. I don't claim that "Blue at the Mizzen" is the finest book in the series, but I found it solidly satisfying, with a good number of the typical small scenes of delight which characterize the O'Brian novels. If there is little music in this book compared to previous novels in the series, there is compensation to be found in the revival of Stephen Maturin's spirits after the sorrowful events of "The Hundred Days." A new character of considerable charm and appeal makes an appearance amidst the expected familiar faces. I don't know whether I would recommend "Blue at the Mizzen" to someone not familiar with the Aubrey-Maturin books (those people I tell to start at the beginning with "Master and Commander"), but I do think that any fan of the series -- even those disappointed with the gloomy atmosphere "The Hundred Days" -- will enjoy this new book.
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am 2. November 1999
I don't know whether I would recommend "Blue at the Mizzen" to someone unfamiliar with Patrick O'Brian's excellent series of nautical novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin because, I believe, much of the pleasure to be derived in reading the book comes from our acquaintance with the main characters from previous novels. But I would have no hesititation at all at recommending it to any Aubrey-Maturin fan. A significant number of readers (not including me) of the previous book in the series, "The Hundred Days", were disappointed in the somber tone of that novel -- an atmosphere fully justified, in my opinion, by the central subject matter. Those readers need not fear a repetition in "Blue at the Mizzen." Stephen Maturin has recovered his interest in the natural world and is once again a fully engaged participant in the events around him. It has been said that this novel might be the final volume in the series (I hope not) but if it is, then the series will end on a high note. The book is full of typical O'Brian touches of elegantly described scenes and subtle characterizations. If it is not quite the equal of "Post Captain" or "Desolation Island" (but what is?) there is still much in "Blue at the Mizzen" to make longtime fans of the series smile with satisfaction. And if it is not the final volume, then I shall look forward with great pleasure to the next book.
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am 26. Dezember 1999
I suppose we have to see Maturin and Aubrey as representing two sides of O'Brian's own way of looking at the world - not his personality: I don't think writing leads to so crude a self-identification as that. If that's so, then it makes sense to me of the darker, less committed feeling of the last two books. The death of the author's wife after so many years of close and happy marriage is bound to have affected the way he looks at the world, and it would have been surprising if these last two books were not elegaiac and downcast, full of loss and a kind of depression. I find that thought comforting in an odd way. The books up to The Hundred Days were so nearly perfect, so engrossing, that I was taken aback by 100 Days, which seemed at first so much less persuasive. I've just finished 'Blue' and although not up to the strength of the earlier books - how could it be? - it seemed to have taken a deep breath and begun to look around again at how things are. I too thought it was supposed to be the last. If it is, then Patrick O'Brian has played his last sly trick on his readers. But it doesn't read like it. They're not real people; but an author has to have some sense of resolution in his or her head, or the act of creation remains incomplete. I hope there will be a final, calmer closing when O'Brian, too, returns to harbour
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am 24. November 1999
This volume is a worthy successor to "100 Days" It follows the error of that volume in that Obryan continues his technique of failing to develop plot and characters as he did in earlier volumes. The main plot is excellant. Aubry and Maturin are indeed engaged in another worthy task envolving personal relationships, seamanship, politics and South American revolutions. The flow of the novel is great and it comes to a logical conclusion leaving us anticipating the obvious next novel where newly frocked Adm. Aubry hoists his flag and goes forth. Obryan is falling into the trench so many novelists fall into however as he assumes much knowledge on the part of his readers. He skips over many opportunities to develop many subplots and details that made his earlier novels such a delite to read and reread. Who can forget the exquisite revenge of Maturin in not only killing by dissecting his enemies; the dissertations of Maturing on women and other things. I'm not doing well at this and in thinking I'm doing the same thing as Obryan; describing the bones but the meat is thin. Charlie Cox
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am 8. März 2000
Although Blue at the Mizzen is readable on its own, it is perhaps an injustice to it to do so. The book, as with any one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, is merely chapter 20 in what is trully an epic. Each volume/chapter is integral; there is not a single weak link in the tale. It was thus with great sadness that I read of Mr. O'Brian's recent death; Blue at the Mizzen is the final chapter.
Things could be worse. Mr O'Brian, intentionally or no, has brought the resolution of many long-standing issues to his characters, though these resolutions also promise new beginings which the reader will now have to make up on his (her) own. Blue at the Mizzen is the type of novel Mr O'Brian's vast readership have come to expect: tragedy ballanced keenly with triumph, exploration of world and soul, the peculiar gains we find in loss, and the losses we face in victory. Blue at the Mizzen is a must read for anyone who has read the epic till this point. Others will still find it enjoyable, but are strongly suggested to start with volume/chapter one: Master and Commander.
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