CLJ Reviews Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian


“Desolation Island”, the fourth book in Irish writer Patrick O’Brian’s naval series, set in the age of Lord Nelson. O’Brian chronicles the adventures of eccentric ship surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin and his buddy, Captain Jack Aubrey – brilliant at sea and hopeless on land. O’Brian’s writing has been compared to that of Jane Austen’s in terms of narrative style while his portrayal of life at sea and daily life in the wooden world of a man of war has been praised as the best there is or ever was. I picked this book because I was keen to expose the rest of the group to literature about the sea – something I’m passionate about, but also because “Desolation Island” is simply a rolicking good read with international espionage, chases on the high seas, maroonings and lots of funny bits as well.


Appropriately the day to discuss the book dawned with gale force winds coming off English Bay. Due to the weather we were not able to meet, as originally planned, at the Maritime museum, execute feats of nautical expertise such as knot tying, and then embark in an Aquaferry across False Creek. The storm would have capsized us and that would have meant no more Book Club. Instead, we played it safe and met at the aptly named “Pirate Pub” to discuss the book. There, each reader was asked to deliver his own diary entry about life on a two-decker from the perspective of one of the book’s characters. And of course there was a trivia contest based on ship terminology. (None of my book clubs are complete without a trivia contest). No one did particularly well at the trivia. Not at all well, actually, which made me realize that Patrick O’Brian could have sold more books had he just toned it down a little bit with all the rich sailor speak which make his novels so very authentic.


Given that this book, takes place in an entirely male world of a 19th Century Man of War, I was surprised that the most praise came from female members of CLJ. They each praised the author’s masterful language and his keen sense of character relationships and dialogue. Most of the group struggled with ‘entering’ the world that Patrick O’Brian creates, namely pre-industrial Britain, a wooden ship and customs completely divorced from those existing on land. It was nonetheless good to see that everyone appreciated being exposed to something new. That’s what makes CLJ so great after all: we often read the books we would otherwise not pick ourselves.

One thought on “CLJ Reviews Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian

  1. Obrien’s book – of course you know that Michael Boronowski (my son:) has sailed on a tall ship out to the pacific on the north coast of Vancouver Island. When he was about 16 or 17 the Sure Swift made it’s first youth cruise out to sea from Port Hardy and then returned to Uculet. He had blue hair at that time:)

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