Spotted Dick. Shot Same.
September 19, 2003 1:25 PM   Subscribe

"Never mind manoeuvres, always go straight at 'em!" Such was the Advice of Lord Nelson to Jack Aubrey. Today seems a good day to suggest the works of Patrick O'Brian before the Russell Crowe film potentially soils his good name. Aubrey is a captain of the Royal Navy and "the particular friend" of Stephen Maturin, naturalist, surgeon, spy. Those starting the 20 volume series may need a dictionary. Given the day, I should mention the duo did sail under a Letter of Marque when times were tough. More Inside
posted by yerfatma (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sad as it sounds, I first noticed O'Brian thanks to David Mamet's obituary in the New York Times. Those looking for a drowned baby should check the Aubrey-Maturin cookbook. The Gunroom has a tremendous list of online resources for the obsessed (I'm on read-through #3).
posted by yerfatma at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2003

I enjoyed the Aubrey-Maturin series a great deal--they are fine examples of contemporary historical fiction. (Especially since I picked them up after trying Dewey Lambdin, whose work I found...not good.) O'Brian is particularly good at negotiating the cultural distance problem: Dr. Maturin is first the outsider to whom things need to be explained and then the more "modern" and "cosmopolitan" of the two characters, making him the link between the reader and Aubrey's world. The series is really one long novel--in fact, the individual volumes just stop dead, rather than concluding.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:47 PM on September 19, 2003

"Sophie, why do you thread, that is why do you transpierce another crumpet, for whom is that crumpet?"
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:49 PM on September 19, 2003

The series is really one long novel--in fact, the individual volumes just stop dead, rather than concluding.

Less true of the first four or five books, but unquestionably the case for everything thereafter. In the O'Brian biography there is mention made that he didn't particularly want to write a series of books and that after a fashion he was just fulfilling his contract.

If the trailer is any indication, Peter Weir has relegated Maturin to a minor character in this "star vehicle". That would be a shame, as much of the story of the books is driven by Maturin, not Aubrey.
posted by briank at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2003

A friend tells me with a sad sigh that ever since he finished the series, "reading just hasn't been the same."

I finished the first one, Master and Commander, a couple of weeks ago. Found it a good read; the book's world is rendered vivid and immediate. It seemed complete enough a novel to me, and I'm in no particular hurry to seek out the second installment. A little 18th century goes a long way.
posted by muckster at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2003

I've read the entire Aubrey-Maturin series once through, and I would recommend it highly. After I was done (sigh), it was rather disappointing to have nothing else of this fascinating story to read. But I expect I'll reread the series in a few years.

Wonderful stories, incredible settings, fascinating characters. For me, it was an escape, and a welcome one.
posted by mooncrow at 2:16 PM on September 19, 2003

Arr, that scurvy hound Russell Crowe is no more an Aubrey than my parrot Tim! I'll be boycottin' this movie.

And if ye liked the novels, ye'll be lovin' the cookbook.

Or not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:37 PM on September 19, 2003

I'm in no particular hurry to seek out the second installment.

muckster— I've been trying to convince my girlfriend to give the books a shot for years. If she ever does, I think I'd give her #2 as it is more consistent with the brilliance of the series. Someone once wrote the nearest comparison to the Aubrey-Maturin series would be the work of Jane Austen. It's not Horatio Hornblower pulp but rather 18th century manners (which you clearly said you can only take so much of, so my point is lost). For all of the tension, there are incredibly funny moments. The second book really introduces the main threads of Maturin's story: the spying and the pining.

How the hell can Maturin be reduced to a minor role? Stuff like that is why I've given all movie talk a wide berth. As it were.
posted by yerfatma at 3:01 PM on September 19, 2003

I'm a recent convert to the Patrick O'Brian stuff myself, but I love it. He also wrote (at least) two non-Aubrey/Maturin nautical adventures which are quite good: The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore, both of which tell stories from Commodre Anson's voyage around the world.

Regarding the upcoming Russell Crowe film: At the end of July, I went with some friends (all of us Patrick O'Brian fans to the core) to see an advance screening of the film, but we got kicked it out [warning: self-link, but a fun story nonetheless]. It was surprisingly good. Though we only saw the first hour, it was enough to make us ready to stand in line to see the whole thing when it is released. Russell Crowe does a creditable job as Jack Aubrey, believe it or not.

On preview: I think I'd give her #2 as it is more consistent with the brilliance of the series. Hm. Our book group read the second book (and only the second book) and was essentially unimpressed. My favorite so far is the third book, far and away. It's brilliant. Uproariously funny in spots, with a bit of action and a bit of romance. Also, the comparison with Jane Austen is apt, but only partially so.

Great stuff.
posted by jdroth at 3:12 PM on September 19, 2003

Maturin plays just a small role?!




*wanders off, reduced to monosyllabic utterances*
posted by thomas j wise at 4:53 PM on September 19, 2003

I'm definitely going to go see the movie, although I have to admit I'm in fear of it not living up to the books. Heck, I still think the idea of an Aussie playing a british captain is just plain wrong. After all, that's where they sent the criminals.
posted by piper28 at 7:38 PM on September 19, 2003

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