Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Master and Commander - an excellent read

A friend of mine recommended that I read Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian - recommended it so strongly that he actually bought me a copy! As I read it, it was tough going in the beginning - felt like I was sailing upwind and against the Gulf Stream up until about page 180.

What kept me working at it was the dawning realization that by reading so many light-weight thrillers, I had become somewhat intellectually lazy when it came to reading heavier, weightier books such as Master and Commander. Also, I was inspired by the nagging sense that there was a great book buried somewhere in there and I was missing it. So I stuck with it. And was richly rewarded. Once I synced into O'Brian's writing style I even went back and reread parts of the book just to see what I missed - and again, my efforts were rewarded.

Several things impressed me about the book. First, there was an enormous amount of research evident in every line of the book, and it was all interwoven without being professorial or lecturing. It was artistically done to a degree I don't think I've observed in any other writer of historical novels. Second, O'Brian had a lot of confidence in himself as a writer because he left much of his research and nautical terms unexplained and undefined - he just rolled the story along saying what needed to be said in the language of the day and expecting the reader to keep up. I'm sure many readers over the years have jumped ship over that style, but for the ones who stuck with it, there was a rich experience to be had. Though even now I'm not sure I could tell a forestay from a quarterdeck or a goglobbly(?), I do think I have experienced living and working on a sloop during the Napoleonic wars.

So, what have I learned?  I think I've learned again that there is no one writing style that works for everyone, but that authors must write what they must write and tell stories in the way they feel is best. Some readers will criticize and some will disparage, sometimes out of ignorance or laziness, but in the end the author must tell the story in his style and his way. If it's a commerical success then so be it - the gods were smiling - and if not, well, if it's an honest book done to an author's best abilitiy then that is still something to strive for. One critic said of O'Brian that what he wrote wasn't just a sea adventure but was 'literature'. What a well-spoken compliment and well deserved. But I'm sure other readers have said - like I was tempted to do before I buckled down - all this nautical jargon is too confusing.

For my next posting, I will draw upon Rulon's academic background - he was a Communications major at Boise State University - and relate his attitudes about the communication tactics unsed by U.S. presidential candidates.



1 comment:

John Franklin III said...

Glad you persisted with Patrick O'Brian and waded through the nautical terms to get to the beauty of the writing and depth of his characters. As you wrote he is worth the effort.