O’Brian, Patrick: (06) The Fortune of War (spoilers)

Scattered SPOILER thoughts on The Fortune of War. Here’s the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.

I don’t know cricket in the least, but I gather that you’re not actually supposed to carry the ball on your bat?

I was interested that none of the characters talked on-screen about the cause of the fire in La Flèche. I mean, it’s tolerably obvious what happened, but all the same the lack of discussion, even in that brief period of safety on the Java, caught my attention.

Poor young Forshaw.

I’m always absurdly touched by the kindness of the opposing officers to their prisoners of war, from Christy-Palliere to the officers of the Constitution. Melancholy as well, but that’s contemporary politics intruding.

Someone who loves birds but who’s actively evil! Hah. (Goodness, but I was tense waiting for Johnson to show up while Stephen was in hiding.)

I didn’t expect that Stephen would no longer love Diana, though I understand it perfectly well. Stephen might have been deceived about his prospects with her in India, but he’s always seen her character very clearly, and wouldn’t fail to notice the changes in her now.

Poor Stephen after the Frenchmen. I do love Jack and his unquestioning and immediate response out of friendship; no, he’s not usually much good on land except when in action, but I can’t fault his loyalty. (Lymond fans have catalogued, or possibly sketched, the scars of the main character. I wonder if anyone’s done the same for Jack, and whether that arm will be the same?)

I note that Stephen and Diana are not married by the end of the book, and I expect this to be an Issue next book.


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  1. I don’t know cricket in the least, but I gather that you’re not actually supposed to carry the ball on your bat?
    No more so than in baseball, and it would be greeted with much the same reaction. Stephen, as I recall, has assumed that cricket is like hurling — a sport much more like modern field hockey. Cricket is somewhat like baseball with only 2 bases, wickets instead of a plate, no foul balls, and runners carrying their bats with them as they run (which is probably what confused Stephen). There are dozens of other important differences, but that gives the flavor.
    I once became briefly addicted to cricket, in the course of a lonely 2-week business trip to London during some big international test match. I even understood the rules, and most of the terminology. Most of that has slipped away now, but I retain enough to appreciate the Monty Python sketch about the “Lost Batsmen of the Kalahari” (…assegai through thorax, bowled Odinga…)

  2. Yes, he refers to hurley.
    I should really try to learn the basics of cricket, but I kind of enjoy not knowing what’s going on and yet having the author convey the importance of the actions anyway. (I think the first time I really encountered a game is in _Murder Must Advertise_, which is an excellent example.)

  3. I think it was this book that actually made me check into a brief primer on the rules of cricket, whereupon it became clear not only the magnitude of Stephen’s error (which you can tell from context) but also why it was an error.
    This book also has one of the best demonstrations of how Stephen, for all his laudable liberal principles, can be an absolutely ruthless man of action when circumstances require it.
    Your reaction as an American is interesting, because I always found myself having roughly the same ambiguous feeling–here were the heroes of the tale, who I was certainly rooting for, and yet there’s a string of events, many of them in this novel, that rub our faces in the fact that they’re in a war against “my side”. It’s a weird feeling.
    This is also really the beginning of O’Brian’s temporal problems… it doesn’t show up directly here, but this is only book six of the series, and we’re already in the War of 1812. O’Brian himself alludes to it in a forward to one of the middle books, mentioning that if he knew at the outset that the series would go on so long, he would have arranged not to have to repeat the year 1813 several times…. He gets around it, somewhat, by being very vague in references to dates and externally datable events. Anyway, it’s not really a problem if you don’t think about it too much.

  4. Trent, I’d already become aware of that time problem when I looked up the dates of some of the historical events–there’s a handy timeline that makes all clear.
    I would, I think, be less bothered by the fact of the Americans being opponents if they were in the wrong when it came to the war.

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