With today's completion of "The Far Side of the World" I've decided to cease reading the Aubrey & Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. It's not that they are badly written, or that the characters annoy me. It's simply that, apart from their sporadic humour.. the books are extremely boring.
I've seen them described as Emily Dickinson with Boats.. I can't really comment on that as I've never read( and am extremely unlikely to read) Emily Dickinson. But they do seem to spend an awful lot of time on inane trivialities. Sometimes that works out well, it provides opportunity for cunning word play that often feeds into the humourus bent the novels have. When that hits, you get grand episodes such as a drunken three-toed sloth, or the Captain's hat being eaten by a pack of Wombats.. or who can forget the disgruntled honeybees which were smuggled on board. But as the series went on, these episodes became less and less common. Mainly being replaced by more and more nattering.
I enjoyed the first 8 books quite a lot. 9 and 10 however where different animals. The author himself admits that he's begun to have to play loose with time in order to keep writing adventures for his characters. Maybe thats why I didn't like it? I don't think its that its set during the war of 1812, and thus the Americans tend to be the foils for the heroic royal navy. Several earlier ones had Americans involved and they didn't turn me off the way that 9 and 10 did. Something about the tone of the books just changed with the move to the double digits.
I'll admit also that O'Brian's characters live and let live attitude to all manner of immorality has grown especially irksome. I'd rather they cast judgements I don't agree with, than simply abstain. It's a very modern way of looking at the world these characters in habit. It's one thing for certain things that I find objectionable to be considered no big deal in the 1700's.. but the characters simply refrain from coming out against anything. Well, except the French and Women on ships anyway...
The chances of me picking up #11 are not that great, but who's to say it won't happen. For the moment though I'm left with 10 unread books that I've got very little interest in reading. But at the same time, because I've not read them, and they are expensive.. I don't really want to trade them in.
I'm still left scratching my head as to why Penguin thought they needed to liken Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series to O'Brien. The two authors really couldn't be more dissimilar. The frivolities engaged in by Aubrey and Maturin and especially by those higher ranked than they are astounding. Things that quite simply only the villains of the Sharpe's books engage in. This is not to say that Aubrey is not an upstanding guy.. but I'd not turn my back on Maturin for a million Dollars. He's a stone cold killer who has immensely conflicting and complicated loyalties.
The closest equivalent to him in Cornwell's work would be Major Ducot.. the French intelligence officer. I'd very much like to see the two of these characters meet on a small stone table on a hillside. Two wine cups, and a bottle sitting on the table. Iocain powder in one, neither or perhaps both cups. Of course to really make the movie work.. you'd need Ingmar Bergman to direct it. It would probably sweep the Oscars. Oh, and both parts would be played by the same actor.. since the two characters seem to be the spitting image of each other.
Brian Aldiss, August 18, 1925 — August 19, 2017
5 hours ago