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O'Brian, Patrick

sea forester aubrey napoleonic

(British, 1914–2000)

Patrick O'Brian is a writer of sea-going Napoleonic war novels in the tradition of C. S. Forester's Hornblower. His heroes are Jack Aubrey, the bluff English navy captain, and Steven Maturin, his Irish ship's surgeon; a more complicated character who struggles with an addiction to laudanum whilst pursuing interests that range from natural history to spying. Like Forester, the plots usually involve undertaking some bold mission culminating in an exciting sea-battle. O'Brian's publishers, and some serious critics, claim him as ‘one of our greatest contemporary novelists’, and he does have a greater interest in character than other writers of Napoleonic sea fiction. The language is subtler, the historical research more meticulous, idiosyncratic, and better integrated, and O'Brian allows himself greater liberties with the genre. He spends half of one book describing Maturin's exploration of the flora and fauna of a tropical island. In another he focuses almost entirely on an Austen-esque exploration of Aubrey's home-life. But the sea-battles always come in the end, we know that Aubrey and Maturin will win through, and the detailed descriptions of exactly how you sail a Napoleonic man-of-war are mind-numbing (and skippable). Which is why he is only a great writer of genre fiction. Start with Master and Commander (1970) and work through the twenty books in order.

J. G. Farrell, C. S. Forester, Joseph Conrad, George MacDonald Fraser.


O'Brien, Edna [next] [back] Oates, Joyce Carol

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