Sunday, January 16, 2011

Five best books on fury and terror on the high seas

Geoffrey Wolff's nonfiction books include Black Sun (Random House, 1976), on the short-lived avant-garde poet Harry Crosby; The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O’Hara (Knopf, 2003), a literary biography of the American fiction writer; The Duke of Deception (Random House, 1979), a memoir that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize; The Edge of Maine (National Geographic, 2005), a rich portrayal of the salty, sea-pounded, and seasonally gentrified Maine coast; and The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum (Knopf 2010), a biography of the legendary icon of adventure.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books about fury and terror on the high seas. One title on the list:
Desolation Island
by Patrick O'Brian (1978)

This fifth of 20 historical novels in Patrick O'Brian's addictive Aubrey-Maturin series imagines a nightmare. As though staying afloat in seas as tall as skyscrapers and as powerful as locomotives is not daunting enough, Capt. Jack Aubrey and the H.M.S. Leopard face the larger Dutch man-of-war Waakzaamheid in the furious waters off the Cape of Good Hope; Aubrey is outgunned and outsped by a ship determined to sink him. The imperial beef between Holland and England in the early 19th century is expressed by the mad exchange of cannon fire between nine-pounders and stern chasers—war is deadly farce, as relentless as a horror movie. The two ships duel for days, through sleet and under moonlight, blazing away at each other, adjusting their aim for elevation as the ships rise to the crests and wallow in the troughs of mountainous seas. Finally the Leopard hits home, and Aubrey sees a "vast breaking wave with the Waakzaamheid broadside on its curl," mortally wounded, sinking in a "turmoil of black hull and white water." Six hundred sailors sunk.
Read about another book on the list.

The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian also appears on Bella Bathurst's top ten list of books on the sea. Master & Commander, the first book in the series, is one of Peter Mayle's six best books. Dr Stephen Maturin is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best good doctors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue