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Old 7th Sep 2006, 12:14   #1
gil
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Default Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian, a fine historic novelist, the author of the acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin tales. He also wrote biographies of Joseph Banks (the naturalist) and Picasso.

He translated many works from French into English, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and the first volume of Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. He also translated Papillon.

Late in his life, he was awarded literary prizes, a CBE and a doctorate at Trinity College, Dublin, though he spent most of his career in obscurity.

Patrick O'Brian died in January 2000. At the time of his death he had begun to write a novel to follow on from Blue at the Mizzen. The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey contains the chapters he had completed of the final voyage of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

Paradoxically, it is this last fragment that I shall discuss first.

Meanwhile we've started a couple of O'Brian threads, so I'll just cross-refer to them first:

The rather ill-supported Master and Commander Group read...

and

The rather better-supported movie of the same name but with the plot of one or more other books.


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Old 7th Sep 2006, 12:22   #2
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

I'm coming back to the 'ill-supported read' in a week or so. Getting Tash Aw out of the way first. (And still have Dance Dance Dance on the back burner pile next the the bed.)
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Old 7th Sep 2006, 12:40   #3
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

I hoped for more, to be honest, and yet it was clear from the advance publicity that it would be fragmentary at best. The book is beautifully presented, and lavishly fore- and after-worded.

But only an enthusiast could get much pleasure out of this book. Even the couple of extant chapters are far from finished, and the plot doesn't tie up, though the flashes of Jack's and Stephen's personalities shine out all the time. The whole of the manuscript is illustrated with all the repeats, scorings-out, shopping lists, telephone numbers and aides-memoire. There is also a typescript on each page opposite to the corresponding manuscript, and also somewhat inaccurate. When the typescript peters out, as it does before the end of the manuscript, you are on your own. At first, I thought I had been brought low by an attack of Sudden Dyslexia Syndrome (Syggne Lysxedia Urstn - you know the one). I couldn't understand a word. It gradually dawned upon me that Patrick O'Brian must have gone to the same school as my father, in which all looped letters look identical, all vowels look identical, and all consonants look like other consonants. Grasping my Hand Lens of Interpretation, I struggled through a page in mere hours.

So, a bit of a disappointment, really, unless you're a keen fan like myself. Personally, I was richly rewarded by the scraps of plot revealed, the glimmer of another wonderful novel, and the fascination of watching him try and then discard words and whole sentences while groping towards the chapters he was creating.

If any of my friends on Palimp would like to borrow this (as it's not worth buying except to complete a collection) then let me know.
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Old 7th Sep 2006, 14:48   #4
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

Dean King and the biography of Patrick O'Brian.

Shortly before O'Brian and his wife died, it emerged that the persona he had long projected was not true - that of having a happy Irish upbringing, being a sometime intelligence agent and having facility with sailing ships in a practical sense. He was, in fact, English, had spent some time in the RAF, and had changed his name from Russ to O'Brian at some late date. A journalist and fan, Dean King, wrote an unauthorised biography, and much was made of O'Brian's deceit at the time. Deceit of his audience, and of his first wife and young family. O'Brian himself never answered any of the impudent questions he was asked nor tried to justify himself.

Frankly, I don't care about his personal life. He wrote a cracking good story, and he could have been an Albanian housewife if he wanted, as long as he kept trotting out the books.

Whatever his actual experience, O'Brian made such a thorough study of naval matters at Portsmouth, of nineteenth century science and medicine, of geography, of current affairs in the early 1800s and, most especially, of mature male bonding, that he can hardly be surpassed as a chronicler of the Napoleonic Age.
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Old 7th Sep 2006, 16:26   #5
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

How interesting. Notty is a huge fan of O'Brian and has just bought the boxed set with all 21 of the Aubrey/Maturin novels...
http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Aubre.../dp/039306011X
... so hasn't read your review yet Gil as he wants to read the book for himself first

I was interested to read that O'Brian translated Papillon. It was (literally) the only book my ex-husband had ever read. What can I say, I married beneath me.
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Old 27th Sep 2006, 9:31   #6
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

Post Captain

If Post Captain had been the first Patrick O'Brian I'd ever read, it may well have also been the last. There is no diminution in the quality of the writing, but the plot is all a bit out of control in a way that is unusual for O'Brian.

o There's not a lot of time spent at sea (always a bit of a bummer if you're looking for a naval thriller);
o Aubrey and Maturin are at loggerheads part of the time (on a rather spurious basis);
o Maturin (having been on his uppers in Master and Commander) is suddenly revealed to be independently well-off landed gentry;
o Maturin's spying role is suddenly a major feature;
o Their flight from Toulon to Spain is implausible;
o There's too much vague love interest;
o There are a number of quite sudden chronological jumps;
o Just when it gets interesting, it stops.

However, if you are to enjoy and put into context the rest of the series, this book is pivotal, and I cannot say I hated it.

I think O'Brian may have conceived the whole series as a much shorter body of work at this stage, and he was trying to cover lots of ground in this volume. The more leisurely quality of later books is in clear contrast to this busy one.


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Old 23rd Oct 2006, 16:38   #7
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

In HMS Surprise O'Brian gets it very nearly exactly right.

Lots of Naval action - a very cunning and tense episode in the Indian Ocean, some exotica in India itself, a duel, surgery and masses of intricate historical detail, the plot culminating with an excellent ending.

Recommended


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Old 27th Nov 2006, 11:40   #8
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

Finished The Mauritius Command some days ago.

This is another excellent novel with authentic naval and military action and a wealth of detail, as well as a welcome lack of the domestic and romantic trauma that I find irksome in a war book.

O'Brian, however, did not have to invent very much of the plot, as Aubrey takes the part actually played in history by Commodore Josias Rowley.

It was a great pleasure also to read Bruce Trinque's historical account of the REAL events.


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Old 28th Nov 2006, 16:49   #9
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

After a number of recent disappointments (Ali Smith, Peter Carey, Tom McArthy) I have stepped out of my modern literary fiction comfort zone and have picked up Master and Commander. Very odd. I feel like I should be hiding it inside the cover of the latest Martin Amis.

Anyway the first few pages have me hooked. I'm just a bit concerned about actually going to sea...
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Old 29th Nov 2006, 13:31   #10
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Default Re: Patrick O'Brian

O dear, I think I've made a terrible mistake. The pages are littered with nuggets such as this:

Quote:
He pays his bottom with his own slush: he worms his cables deep with twice-laid stuff and serves and parcels them so there is never any fretting in the hawes anywhere..
What the hell is he on about? In fact, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Strictly for shipspotters only I think. Anyway, I will persist for now but I'm not optimistic as we haven't even left shore yet.
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