I never knew Kris' grandmother well. What connection we did have was made through books. She shared her favorite books with me, and I shared mine with her. For years she recommended I read a series of books by Patrick O'Brian. This twenty book series comprised the ongoing adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his best friend, the surgeon (and sometimes spy) Stephen Maturin. I was intrigued enough to purchase the first book in the series, Master and Commander, but I never read it. I made attempts, but always became mired in the first few pages.
Then, when I met Joel, his enthusiasm for O'Brian persuaded me to give Master and Commander another chance. I'm glad I did. O'Brian's prose is anachronistic: it is thick and rich, almost Victorian. Yet it's tainted with a modern sensibility so that the reader does not become lost in ornate passages. O'Brian writes with intelligence and, especially, with wit. There are whole passages — twenty pages at a time — devoted to broad humor. (My favorite remains the ten pages or so devoted to the sloth in H.M.S. Surprise — great stuff!) One of the best things about O'Brian's books is their broad appeal: fully forty percent of his readers are women. His stories are about adventure, it's true, but they also contain strong friendships, a thirst for learning, bits of history, and even some romance. There's something for everybody, I think, and it only takes the perseverance to complete one novel to make you want to read them all.
I've still not read much of the Aubrey-Maturin series. (There are twenty books after all!) I've read the first three books, and started the fourth. Last summer I read the two O'Brian novels that prefigured these, however. The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore both related different aspects of Commodore Anson's circumnavigation of the globe during the eighteenth century. They're brilliant introductions to O'Brian's style and themes, and to naval fiction in general. The Golden Ocean has the additional virtue of including prototypes for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.
I asked Joel to recommend some O'Brian sites:
The World of Patrick O'Brian has a pretty good links page. The most entertaining site for me is the Patrick O'Brian discussion forum, mostly because the fan community there is really tight and bitchy. Probably my third favorite site is this fan's contribution. Rather than just enthuse about the books, she's done some excellent research on many of the different animals in the books. Not a complete list, which after seeing her website I feel a need to attempt, but an interesting site.Why all this fuss about Patrick O'Brian today?
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a film adaptation of the Aubrey-Maturin series, opens today. The film, which stars Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey, comprises scenes from several of the books in the series, which is mildly disappointing. It seems that this is to be a one-off adventure instead of the first film in a franchise. Still, the reviews are glowing. The Tomatometer is currently running at 88%, though at 100% from "cream of the crop". (It's interesting to note that the critics who don't like the film — such mainstays as one Jon Popick from Planet Sickboy (?!?!?) — universally fault it because it's boring. The better-known critics praise the film for its intelligence and maturity. Hmmm.) Roger Ebert gives the film four stars. (Here is Ebert's interview with Russell Crowe, which I posted in the flotch yesterday.) Here, too, is USA Today's 3-1/2 star review. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy likes the film, but worries that it's not for everybody. (Levy also speaks with director Peter Wier.)
As a public service, here are the film's showtimes in Oregon theaters. Dave and Joel and I have been unable to find a time that is mutually agreeable, so I am, as yet, unable to pay my debt from earlier in the year. Thus, I'm just going to catch a matinee on my own this afternoon. We can all three go next weekend maybe. (Along with Mac and Andrew and anyone else who'd like to come.)
Finally, here are some assorted timely links regarding Patrick O'Brian, his books, and the film adaptation:
- Two previous entries about Patrick O'Brian here at foldedspace.org: Master and Commander (in which I rave about the first novel of the series) and Swell, in which the third novel resonates with my persona history.
- At the Heart of the Ocean: How Patrick O'Brian invented a naval saga and a life. [Time Magazine]
- The Bold Man and the Sea: Is Russell Crowe, star of Master and Commander and cinema's current hunk in a funk, really a sweetie after all? Nope. But he is full of surprises. [Time Magazine]
- Director Peter Wier: NPR's Neil Conan interviews the film's director. This page also includes a link to a 1995 interview with Patrick O'Brian himself.
- Another Talk of the Nation conversation with Patrick O'Brian, this one after the publication of his last book.
- The Patrick O'Brian Reading Group Guide
On this day at foldedspace.org
2002 — Meme Man Here's a collection of links for your enjoyment (this time with sources for those of you who always ask where do you find this stuff?)
2001 — Unrelaxed I didn't get the relaxing weekend that I had envisioned. Perhaps I'll give up on that plan.