cover image The Unknown Shore

The Unknown Shore

Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03859-0

O'Brian's loyal following for the Aubrey/Maturin historical nautical adventure novels (The Wine-Dark Sea, etc.) has swelled from a cult to a legion of readers; thus there are many who will welcome this predecessor to that well-received series. Originally published in England in 1959 and based on British Commodore Anson's 1740 circumnavigation of the world (as was O'Brian's The Golden Ocean), this is the story of HMS Wager, a ship separated from Anson's squadron while sailing around Cape Horn. The Wager is shipwrecked off Patagonia, and the largest part of the narrative details the hardships of the diminishing band of survivors on that inhospitable shore. Daily shipboard routine, smoky 1740 London and the Indian community in Chile are all finely detailed. What will set devotees of O'Brian's better-known books positively aquiver, though, are the two chief characters: Jack Byron, an enthusiastic midshipman with ``gaudy'' family connections, and his best boyhood friend, Tobias Barrow, an unworldly budding doctor and naturalist. Their later counterparts are, of course, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and O'Brian loyalists will have a field day comparing the four characters. Though this novel isn't quite as polished or stylish as the author's later work, it's a most honorable ancestor. Maps not seen by PW. (Nov.)