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Author Topic: Patrick O'Brian  (Read 8713 times)

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Patrick O'Brian
« on: November 08, 2006, 05:50:05 PM »

I know it's stretching a bit to call the Jack Aubrey novels mysteries.  Hell, it's stretching a lot, even allowing Dr. Maturin's status as a secret agent.

Still, since O'Brian's oeuvre has come up in the past, this seemed like a good category to post a comment in.

I recall getting into a friendly argument some time ago about whether O'Brian was better than C.S. Forester.  I was a partisan for Forester and the Hornblower series.  But I have to admit that, the more I get into the Aubrey series, the more I'm getting converted to the O'Brian side.

For one thing, he really does capture the writing style of the era, without seeming pedantic (as so many Jane Austen continuers do).  For another, his depiction of the friendship between Jack and Stephen is much more engaging than the parallel one between Hornblower and Bush.  For one thing, Stephen is more of a co-hero than a sidekick, and his status as a Ship's Surgeon places him somewhat outside the chain-of-command, so there's no need for the distance that must exist, by necessity, between Hornblower and Bush.

Finally, Jack strikes me, ultimately, as a more believable character than Hornblower, for all that he seems constructed, in some ways, to deliberately be the "anti-Hornblower."  Much as Hornblower's self-doubts, sea-sickness, and discomfort around women he's attracted to are endearing, how likely is it that someone so beset by such doubts would be this successful in a military career.

Jack's being so absolutely comfortable in his own skin, so decisive, and so confidant of his own decisions, all are elements one is much more likely to associate with a successful career in the Armed Services.

I'm up to Desolation Island so far, and I'm truly looking forward to the rest of the series.

Kathy Wendorff

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Re: Patrick O'Brian
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2006, 07:29:41 AM »

Hey Jim, I just finished The Far Side of the World way too late last night. I haven't read the Forester novels, so I can't speak to which series is better -- but I think O'Brian's series is terrific. As you said, the characters are engaging,  believable, and evolve over the course of the series. His handling of setting is wonderful. Amazing. Masterful. A tour de force.

I also like his pacing. Maybe it comes from the fact that he (apparently) bases these books as closely as possible on real ship voyages -- but his pacing wanders from the standard 3-act structure most current novels follow. Consequently it has a feel of real life. He gives the sense of long weeks at sea, (somehow without ever boring me) followed by sudden unexpected changes in situation, and not necessarily where they're due in the prescribed 3-act structure. Of course each novel has a narrative drive from beginning to end, but I enjoy the twisty picaresque way he gets there.

And I think the rapid understated way he describes violence is much more effective than the wallowing found in many current novels. There's a shark attack in one of his books that takes one or two terse paragraphs -- and it is unforgettably horrifying.

Besides, he's laugh-out-loud funny.

There are probably more reasons i enjoy that series, but those are a few.

Kathy W.



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Re: Patrick O'Brian
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2006, 01:44:16 PM »

Yes, I think also that O'Brian is better than Forester, partially because of his phenomenal research and the way he makes us believe in his world. It's the trivia and the fads, so often forgotten by writers of historical fiction, that make his books come alive.  And the characters are very good also.

But Horatio Hornblower (yes, I read all of those, too, and saw all of the PBS series) is perfectly believable to me.  He is a man so driven by his profession that he is inept at anything that does not belong to it.  In a way, his personal flaws make him a slightly more tragic figure than Aubrey, who seems to laugh most things off cheerfully.

On second thought: Akitada is a little like Hornblower, at least about women. I had a reviewer comment that he didn't think a brainy detective should be so awkward about romance.  Hah!  I think that means that men like their heroes to be masterful in every aspect of their lives.

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