Patrick O’Brian was born on 12th December 1914 in Buckinghamshire and was christened Richard Patrick Russ, but changed his name by deed poll to Patrick O’Brian in 1945. He was the eighth of nine children born to a German doctor and his Irish wife. His mother died when he was three and was brought up by his stepmother. O’Brian spent some time as a pilot training with the Royal Navy, but he began to concentrate on his literary career and rumour has it that he was used for intelligence work during World War II.
O’Brian is best known for his Aubrey-Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. There are 20 novels in this series, starting with Master and Commander, although a final novel was published posthumously after O’Brian’s death in January 2000.
O’Brian was married twice; the first to Elizabeth Jones and the second to Mary Tolstoy. His second daughter to Elizabeth unfortunately suffered from spina bifida and died in 1942 aged three. After spending a few years in Wales, Patrick and Mary moved to France where he continued writing and also translating French works into English. O’Brian was awarded the inaugural Heywood Hill Literary Prize for his lifetime’s writings and he also received a CBE in 1997.
The Golden Ocean
This is the first novel Patrick O’Brian wrote about the sea, a precursor to the acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series.
In the year 1740, Commodore (later Admiral) George Anson embarked on a voyage that would become one of the most famous exploits in British naval history. Sailing through poorly charted waters, Anson and his men encountered disaster, disease, and astonishing success. They circumnavigated the globe and seized a nearly incalculable sum of Spanish gold and silver, but only one of the five ships survived.
The protagonist is Peter Palafox, son of a poor Irish parson, who signs on as a midshipman, never before having seen a ship. Together with his lifelong friend Sean, Peter sets out to seek his fortune, embarking upon a journey of danger, disappointment, foreign lands, and excitement.
Blue at the Mizzen
Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo, and the ensuing peace brings with it both the desertion of nearly half of Captain Aubrey’s crew and the sudden dimming of Aubrey’s career prospects in a peacetime navy. When the Surprise is nearly sunk on her way to South America—where Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are to help Chile assert her independence from Spain—the delay occasioned by repairs reaps a harvest of strange consequences. The South American expedition is a desperate affair; and in the end Jack’s bold initiative to strike at the vastly superior Spanish fleet precipitates a spectacular naval action that will determine both Chile’s fate and his own.
This is the seventeenth novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series, which have been described as “the best historical novels ever written.”
Having survived a long and desperate adventure in the Great South Sea, Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin return to England to very different circumstances. For Jack it is a happy homecoming, at least initially, but for Stephen it is disastrous: his little daughter appears to be autistic, incapable of speech or contact, while his wife, Diana, unable to bear this situation, has disappeared, her house being looked after by the widowed Clarissa Oakes.
Much of The Commodore takes place on land, in sitting rooms and in draughty castles, but the roar of the great guns is never far from our hearing. Aubrey and Maturin are sent on a bizarre decoy mission to the fever-ridden lagoons of the Gulf of Guinea to suppress the slave trade. But their ultimate destination is Ireland, where the French are mounting an invasion that will test Aubrey’s seamanship and Maturin’s resourcefulness as a secret intelligence agent.