Monday, November 12, 2018

Picturesque Wales in the '50s

TestimoniesTestimonies by Patrick O'Brian
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Almost 200 pages into a 224 paged book and now something finally happens?! Jeez Louise! The only reason I muscled through all that nothing is because I love Patrick O'Brian's work. I was sure there would be a payoff, and there was, but it came in the third to last chapter with no preamble, no teasing along, not even the tiniest of tidbits to make a reader's hope linger.

Testimonies is O'Brian's first adult novel. He had written a few as a boy and made a name for himself. That name must have been somewhat deflated by these meandering pages of character sketches and setting description.

Since the book is set in the hilly wilds of Wales and because O'Brian is an expert scene describer, these pages often make for gorgeous reading. His prose flows like a breeze over grassy downs, occasionally whipping through a craggy pass atop some barren rise. Truly, you will say, this is a master wordsmith.

However, at this point in his writing career O'Brian seemingly hadn't discovered plot yet . The book is not entirely directionless, but the point of it all is elusive at best. I can't recommend this, except to O'Brian fans looking to read his complete works, but neither can I claim this to be an outright failure. The characters are so very real - he did after all create them from his time spent in Wales - that one does grow an attachment to them. All the same, one wishes they'd do something.

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A Biography of Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian:  A Life RevealedPatrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed by Dean King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrick O'Brian is the Irish writer of the Master & Commander series, who isn't Irish.

Patrick O'Brian had nothing to do with World War II...except he was a spy.

Patrick O'Brian isn't Patrick O'Brian.

There is a great deal of secrecy and veiled history for such a seemingly benign author of such a pleasant literary series of polite manners and seafaring adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars. I fell in love with that "Aubrey/Maturin" series years ago, read it over numerous times and moved on to other works by the author. At some point I wanted to know more. Dean King, who has written a number of books about O'Brian and his work, clearly also fell in love with the author. You really feel it in his approach.

I'm glad he made the attempt at this difficult task. It couldn't have been easy. So little is known about the man, because the man wanted little to be known about himself. In an effort to distance himself from a less than ideal upbringing, family and flawed marriage, he moved overseas and took on a new personae and detested anyone who defied it, even his loving brother. This seems to have rubbed off on some of his fans, who have not taken kindly to King's intrusion and revelations about their favorite author.

Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed does a fantastic job keeping the timeline in order and moving along. A parallel was made to O'Brian's books and especially the series he's known for. Almost all of the books are given a little synopsis and imbued with historical significance as relates to the author. In fact, it took me as long as it did to read this because I found myself setting it aside to read other O'Brian books that I hadn't gotten to yet. That was fun, but it did make this lengthy tome seem even longer. I'd imagine it would probably seem a chore to anyone other than an O'Brian fan, but for the hardcore among us this is highly recommended!

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