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Treason's Harbour by Patrick…

Treason's Harbour (original 1983; edition 1994)

by Patrick O'Brian

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1,997253,367 (4.2)42
Title:Treason's Harbour
Authors:Patrick O'Brian
Info:W. W. Norton (1994), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Historical Fiction, Audiobook

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Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian (1983)


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O’Brian’s writing is often compared to Jane Austen, but I strongly suspect that this is just a widespread reflex to which pretty much anything set in the Regency period is somehow “like Jane Austen.” There is at least some justice to it in this case, in so far as the implied narrator of the Aubrey-Maturin novels is clearly a contemporary and shares not only the conceptions and prejudices of his characters but also their language – as manifest not just in the extensive (and to the reader often exasperating) use of nautical terms but in O’Brians’s general choice of words, the way he constructs long periods, indeed even the very rhythm of his prose is somehow evocative of the late 18th / early 19th century. However, while on one hand the narrator appears completely immersed in the period in which the novels take place, at the same time he is clearly not and writes with a distinct detachment, watching the to-and-fro on both land and sea from a distance, with wry amusement and ever-present irony.

And irony is, I think, the key word here – the author who O’Brian makes me most think of is not Jane Austen (whose irony, it seems to me, is more of the tongue-in-cheek variety and something quite different) but Thomas Mann the vast majority of whose narrators also cultivate this involved-but-not-really-commited attitude (and his protagonist often as well – as when Joseph is said to have become in all respects like an Egyptian – “but with reservations”). Thomas Mann is one of the most imitated writers of the twentieth century, but for some reason it seems to be next to impossible to imitate him successfully – while there is a plethora of excellent, even great Faulkner epigones (to name just one example), almost everyone attempting to write in the vein of Thomas Mann seems to end up second- or third-rate (if not worse), mostly due to a vapid and anaemic prose style. Now, one can call O’Brian’s writing a lot of things, but anaemic is certainly not one of them. I suspect that the reason O’Brian succeeds where so many others have failed is that he applies Thomas Mann’s distinct brand of irony not to the novel of ideas but to the historical novel, where the genre itself pretty much guarantees a certain saturation with vivid details and a certain groundedness which prevents a text from pirouetting endlessly around itself, producing nothing but narcissistic self-centeredness – another trap those who would follow in the footsteps of Thomas Mann like to fall into.

In addition the characteristic hovering of irony, the vacillating between two sides of a border without coming down on either seems an almost too perfect solution for what is maybe the central dilemma of the traditional historical novel (i.e., not postmodern and not written by William T. Vollmann) – to present a past period as it has been experienced by its contemporaries while at the same time remaining aware of the basic impossibility of that undertaking, simultaneously immersing the reader in a historical epoch and reminding him that this immersion is an illusion, mere make-believe and an approximation at best. This is a very fine line to walk, and most historical novels tend to fall off to one side or the other – which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the results can be quite fascinating, especially if the novel crashes on the immersion side of the divide. O’Brian, however, always remains in perfect balance, walking the tightrope in supreme confidence. In fact, he sometimes makes it look too easy – this is always a danger of irony, that it just is not very dangerous but plays things safe, that the narrator’s equanimous distance from events prevents them from touching him too deeply.

Treason’s Harbour – to say at least a sentence or two about the actual book I’m supposed to be writing about here – does not quite escape this, I think. While it speeds things up again after the non-events of The Ionian Mission, spicing things up mainly with some espionage intrigue, it certainly chuffs along pleasantly enough, and it’s of course always a delight to let oneself be carried along by the rhythm of O’Brians prose. But I felt the novel was lacking a bit in emotional involvement. So I may have liked this chapter in the Aubrey-Maturin saga just a tad less than some previous instalments, but overall I still loved and remain eager to continue.
1 vote Larou | Jul 6, 2016 |
Emily Dickinson said there is no frigate like a book. In the Aubrey-Maturin series this is especially true. O'Brian's stories of these two characters give the reader a trip through the era of sailing warships during the conflict with Napoleonic France. This story takes place in Malta and the eastern Mediterranean and also in the sweltering Red Sea, all vividly told. ( )
  charlie68 | Mar 17, 2016 |
The continuing adventures of Dr.Maturin and his bff, Captain Aubrey of the Royal Navy. This is a particularly endearing look at them, because both are in fine form. Aubrey is able to showcase his incredible seamanship, strategy, and leadership, while Maturin's naturalist excusions are a humorous counterpoint to his intelligent manipulations. The humor of their strange shipmates and odd customs of the Navy, the obvious intimacy with Maturin's foibles, the affection shown by all of them toward each other--I really loved it.

Three things spoiled my enjoyment: Patrick Tull is generally a good narrator, but his voice for the Italian Mrs.Fielding is atrocious, so bad and artificial that it sounds like a parody. Being party to the French Intelligence officers' meetings is fun for the reader, but made me impatient when Maturin didn't figure out the various French plots. Particularly annoying was his continued trust in Ray, because there were numerous clues that Ray was involved with the French, and Maturin had absolutely no reason to trust Ray. And thirdly, the book ends right in the middle of a spy plot and right before more ship battles! I could hardly believe the book ended in such an awkward spot--at first I thought I'd downloaded it wrong! ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
In which Aubrey is back in Malta awaiting a promised command, the port teeming with French agents and rife with British corruption. Maturin plays a game of double-cross with Lesueur (and unknowingly: with Wray), pretending to be seduced by Laura Fielding yet upholding his honour, and hers. A similar game may be played in London with Diana and Jagiello. The intrigue shifts from Malta to the Red Sea aboard Niobe, after transport on Dromedary and then a desert crossing by camel train, and dear Surprise is charged with convoy duty to Ithaca, perhaps its last mission before being sold out of the service.


Theme of cuckoldry continues, now targeting Charles Fielding given his wife's willingness to be used by French intelligence. O'Brian inserts a wry aside about a cuckold's neck, a nautical term.

Jack's chelengk, his rescue of Ponto from a well, and subsequent raised eyebrows about town.

Stephen's diving bell, and French gold; Wray's gambling habit, and in lieu of payment: a new command for Jack? Attending to a bear, recently injured by crewmember Awkward Davis.

The memorable action aboard Surprise with French man-of-war Mars and its attendant freighters, in tight quarters, Jack's seamanship delivering a satisfactory conclusion if no prize.

O'Brian names the Captains Ball & Hamner; and glassmerchant Maimonides Moses. ( )
  elenchus | Apr 18, 2014 |
By this stage in the saga, opening one of these books is like sinking gratefully into a warm bath... ( )
1 vote dazzyj | May 12, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick O'Brianprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hunt, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Smoothe runnes the Water, where the Brooke is deepe,
And in his simple shew he harbours Treason.
(2 Henry VI)
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A gentle breeze from the north-west after a night of rain, and the washed sky over Malta had a particular quality in its light that sharpened the lines of the noble buildings, bringing out all the virtue of the stone; the air too was a delight to breathe, and the city of Valletta was as cheerful as though it were fortunate in love or as thought it had suddenly heard good news.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393308634, Paperback)

This segment of the Aubrey saga is set in Malta, where the captain's "small, sweet-sailing frigate" is undergoing repairs. The island, however, is swarming with Napoleonic agents, which means that Stephen Maturin must do everything in his power to avert sabotage. A typical O'Brian cocktail of action and intrigue.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:57 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In Malta for much needed repairs on his ship, Captain Jack Aubrey must rely on his ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin, to outwit Napoleon's agents.

(summary from another edition)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393308634, 0393037096

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