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Post by PerodicticusPotto on Sun 27 Jan 2019, 10:27

Just a note to say that while I note this sub-forum has been quiet since 2017 should anyone wish to discuss Patrick O'Brian's books, I should be delighted. Delighted.


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Post by Alaric Bond on Mon 28 Jan 2019, 07:32

Happy to!

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Post by broughstar on Thu 31 Jan 2019, 16:09

he is one of my favourite authors and i have read all 21 of his books. so will be glad to talk about his work.
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Post by PerodicticusPotto on Sun 24 Feb 2019, 12:24

I must apologise for the delayed response, gentlemen. Almost four weeks having passed since my initial post, it occurs to me that I need to pull my anomalous phalange out.

I first discovered the Aubrey/Maturin series in the mid-1990s and read most of the books out of order. Recently, I have re-read them in order with much pleasure (having forgotten almost all the details in the interim; proving there is a silver lining to a poor memory).

As on the first reading, I was captivated by O'Brian's wonderful elegant prose, erudition, period authenticity, characterisation, wit and humour. I love the way he assumes a high level of intelligence in the reader and simply immerses them in the period with little in the way of explanation. The Aubrey/Maturin relationship is brilliantly drawn. Like a piece of musical counterpoint, they're playing different tunes but each in harmony with the other.

But this time around I was aware of a couple of issues with the writing too. For example, I found myself eager for more depth, darkness and ambiguity. There seems to be a surfeit of 'niceness' at times, especially in the later books after Aubrey and Maturin are married. It seems every voyage goes according to plan, the crew behave perfectly, the enemy are obliging and the worst that happens is that someone commits a minor faux pas at dinner...

In addition, the plotting comes across as unduly episodic. Even where a plot-theme extends across several books, such as the treachery of Wray/Ledward, little is made of it. There are left-turns in the narrative, but that's not the same as a plot twist that provides a satisfying pay-off. Similarly, Maturin's intelligence role often provides the rationale for the voyage but rarely delivers much in the way of cloak-and-dagger excitement. It's hard, for me at least, to identify any grand literary themes which the author tackles in compensation.

Am I being harsh in feeling that POB 'lacks bottom'? What do others here feel?

Any other personal likes or dislikes from the series?

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Post by 80 Winters on Tue 26 Feb 2019, 06:11

I wished to respond to Shipmate Potto, but was distracted by the many duties required of one of my seniority.  So I delegated my response to my faithful Premier (with whom I prudently agree...)----

A wise man once said “if you wish to converse with me define your terms.”  While Mr. Potto does not define what he means by “bottom” a quick Google search provides some clues.  The Daily Mail has been quoted as considering ‘bottom’ as “that old-fashioned but potent word for depth, roots, grounding, principle”.  Arguably, the term arises from the way a good ship, well found in bottom or ballast, can weather the winds of a storm at sea.  In the same way, a man, with experience to inform and mold his character, can remain upright and weather the gales of Life.  If Shipmate Potto might agree with this definition does his objection to Patrick O’Brian’s ‘lack of bottom’ arise from Mr. O’Brian’s lack of first-hand experience in the subject he writes about for twenty-and-a-bit-more novels?  Mr. O’Brian himself acknowledged his plots were drawn from Admiralty accounts and his details from exhaustive archival research.  I must point out that as there are no Royal Navy captains from the Age of Fighting Sail still living among us we would be hard pressed to find a telling of their exploits more grounded in experience than in research.  (That Patrick O’Brian’s research was exhausting is beyond doubt—may I recommend ML Sinowitz “Patrick O’Brian’s Bodies at Sea: Sex, Drugs and the Physical Form in the Aubrey-Maturin Novels” for a discussion on this?)  Further, those who did write from their own experience (Marryat comes to mind) were often constrained by the limits of their own point of view, the sometimes meager happenings of their careers or indeed sometimes by their own often limited eloquence on paper.  

Surely Shipmate Potto does not wish to quibble with Mr. O’Brien’s novels because he feels that unless one has experienced a thing one cannot write about it?  That is a very modern conceit—rooted in political correctness gone mad—that puts aside humanity’s empathy and intellectual capacity.  No, I cannot believe that of Shipmate Potto.  

Perhaps Shipmate Potto uses ‘bottom’ in the sense of a gravitas of spirit?  Is it a question of an optimistic view of life contrasted with a more cynical one, this longing for ‘darkness and ambiguity’?  Looking at what little is known of the man himself, I think Patrick O’Brian chose to adopt in writing the outlook of his bluff, hearty Jack, dipping into the cynicism of his Stephen only occasionally for contrast.  And while the man Richard Russ may have been familiar with the world of intelligence, it wasn’t the focus of the author Patrick O’Brian.  He knew, I’m sure, that the real world of spying contains precious little of the ‘cloak and dagger excitement’ that would delight his readers, the events of ‘The Fortune of War’ and ‘The Surgeon’s Mate’ notwithstanding.

As for grand literary themes—does not the nature of enduring friendship qualify?

We all create the world we choose to inhabit, and I suspect Patrick O’Brian may have been more successful than most.  In the course of twenty novels I think Jack and Stephen deserve their share of well-behaved crews and obliging enemies.  Call it a glass half-full or half-empty.  I shall take my half-full mug of grog and join him in that world, reading by the fireside.
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Post by broughstar on Wed 27 Feb 2019, 17:01

i agree admiral, in other words just enjoy them for what they are, escapism
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