August 18, 2004



Poseur? How? I'm sure he couldn't have performed emergency surgery on board a ship with nineteenth-century equipment, either. He was a novelist, and, it would seem, a good researcher. That's what a novelist DOES -- creates a fictional world. He (or she) doesn't have to live it.

Methinks some people have been watching too much reality tv.


OK, three point merit mention here:

1) Fair enough. But when a novelist also makes actual claims to have done something (versus having merely written about it, as in your example), well, that's called "lying." I find no evidence of any claims made by O'Brian that he was conversant in shipboard medicine but much in which he said he could sail.

2) Please do note the question mark. That's a handy grammatical tool that indicates the interrogative form, suggesting uncertainty or a request for information. Headlines reflect the gist of the piece in question, not editorial judgment. (They're kinda handy that way.)

3) Apparently, O'Brian fans are - like their hero - rather humorless prats. (That's an editorial judgment.)

Happy sails!


I hope by number 3 you refer to that wealthy American businessman-type.... since I am clearly not sufficiently a "fan". I've read the books, but have not delved deeper into the personal and autobiographical claims of Mr. O'Brian. (I've learned my lesson about that -- just 'cos I like someone's work, doesn't mean I'll like them. And if I don't like something about them, it taints my enjoyment of the work. So much for Orson Scott Card...)

But still, I honestly don't give a damn whether or not the man knew his hoist from his lanyard, as long as he can write rousingly about it. Just like I don't care how many fish Hemingway actually caught, or how big they were. But people seem so keen that fictive personalities, creative personalities, be as thrilling in real life as they are in fantasy -- and I'm sad to see this spreading from Hollywood actor-types over to authors.


Humorless? You better watch out for that whoopie cushion, Sarvas. :)

The important thing is whether or not you believe the world invented. And having read a good chunk of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, I believed in them. The nautical vernacular, the meticulous detail, the sailor intonations. What next? James Baldwin not entitled to write about Caucasians? Helen Keller silenced because she couldn't see the typewriter? Ernest Hemingway not entitled to write about life because he offed himself?

This is the kind of preventive logic one expects out of Jesse Helms.


bxtkwuc uclaoa.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."