O’Brian, Patrick: (05) Desolation Island (spoilers)

SPOILERS for Desolation Island; here’s the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.

Jack and Sophie are doing better finanically than I would’ve thought after Admiral Bertie’s machinations, but this mine scheme fills me with great foreboding. I was vastly relieved to hear that the girls’ portions can’t be touched.

Our omniscient narrator reports that Sophie has a “very modest sexual impulse,” which partly answers my question of a few books back.

It’s hard to exactly blame Diana for leaving Stephen in the lurch this time, but still, poor Stephen.

Question: as Stephen leaves a coffeehouse after finding that Diana has left, two men follow him: “They were still there when he came out, but he was utterly indifferent to their presence. They preserved him, however, from an ugly encounter in the Green Park, where he wandered among the trees in a deep abstraction, his feet slowly guiding him eastwards to his inn, where he sank straight into a sleep as dull and deep as lead.” If we get told who they are or why they’re there, I don’t recall hearing it.

There’s a definitely missing paragraph in chapter 6, identified in this archive of a group read of the book and reproduced here:

‘ . . . A fireship is among us, and her unlucky name is Peggy Barnes.’

* ‘But sir, as she herself confesses, she is with child.’

Stephen brushed this aside. ‘How do they get at her? and how can she be rendered chaste? A serricunnium, a belt for that purpose, is not provided in ships of the fourth rate . . . ‘

This book has a lot of nice setup: the sternpost, the rats, Grant and the chaplain; and a happy little touch in the midshipman, Forshaw, who Jack teaches to climb and who later begs to run the captain’s glass up to him. Also some explicit mirroring of Stephen and Diana with Herapath and Mrs. Wogan, though I admit to being deeply dubious of the idea that a drug addict can break his addiction and then go back to casual use of the drug.

I think this is the first time we see a ship sunk with all hands. Very exciting battle—I got on the highway in the wrong direction while listening (in the habitual direction, rather than the necessary one)—but very bleak.

It’s a good thing that this is the 1800s and thus the characters cannot make Titanic jokes. I love the image of the bosun’s mate yelling at the pengins to make a lane.

O’Brian knows what to leave out. The actual journey to Botany Bay is unnecessary after this, assuming, that is, that they make it safely.


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  1. My impression was that the men were watching Diana’s house after her quasi-arrest for forwarding Louisa’s intelligence, and they followed Stephen to identify him.
    Yeah, poor Stephen. She never really stops treating him like that, either.

  2. Oh, yes, that makes sense. Thanks!

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