cover image The Golden Ocean

The Golden Ocean

Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03630-5

Originally published in 1956, this is O'Brian's first novel of the sea. But it is more than just a curiosity from the author of the 16 wonderful Aubrey/Maturin books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea ; it can stand on its own as an entertaining and psychologically astute narrative. Based on British Commodore George Anson's four-year circumnavigation that began in 1740, the book focuses on young midshipman Peter Palafox. A younger son of a poor Irish parson, Peter is sweet-natured, impetuous and innocent (though well educated: he knows English, Irish, Latin and Greek). Much of the narrative follows his evolution into a capable seaman with a talent for leadership and--after the capture of large sums of Spanish gold and silver--into a rich man. This early work has practically all the naval lore and sense of place that grace the Aubrey/Maturin books; the scenes in China are particular standouts. Shipboard life rings true, the story never flags and humor abounds: ``Well, he is a wonderful poacher for a Protestant,'' observes one Anglo-Irishman. O'Brian says he wrote the book in about six weeks, ``laughing most of the time,'' and one believes him. Though the splendid characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are absent, fans will gladly use this story to fill the time til the next episode of their adventures. (Apr.)