Since I discovered his books about 5 years ago, I’ve been a huge fan, not just because I like nautical fiction, but because, unlike many authors of the genre, O’Brian was a first class writer. No other writer (of fiction or history) has been able to take me back to a specific point in history the way he has. And he did this with, not what he wrote about, but with the words he used. When I introduced O’Brian to a friend of mine, she said it was like discovering 20 new Jane Austin novels.
Anyway, NPR’s obituary this morning confirmed that I’m not alone in my opinions. They spent about 30 seconds comparing him to the greatest novelists of the last 200 years.
Then, after stating that O’Brian refused to ever answer questions about his personal life, they spent the next 4 and a half minutes talking about what a bastard he was; he wasn’t really Irish, he abandoned his sick wife and deformed daughter, his son changed his name and refused to ever talk to him again, etc, etc, etc. Dean King, who has written some excellent guides and companions for the novels, is now writing a tell-all biography about the man who has been his bread and butter for the last 10 years. He’s dead now, so we can talk about what’s nobody else’s business.
I wish I’d turned off the radio after the first 30 seconds. I’m also tired of people reminding me that Wagner was an anti-semite every time I say he’s one of my favorite composers. Is it so hard to keep the work and the artist separate?
Oh well. That’s my gripe for the day. Read the novels. Skip the bio.
The 20 Aubrey-Maturin novels are among the most exciting, moving and humane stories I have ever read. I have recommended this series to every reader I know, and none has ever been less than delighted. Superlatives are not enough; whoever you are, you must read these books.
I don’t know or care about O’Brian’s real name or his personal life, and I can happily disregard the work of self-serving biographers. The work stands on its own, and it is astonishing. Rest in peace, Mr. O’Brian.
I love O’Brians novels. My husband has read them all, and I am working my way through them. I think you got it exactly Ursa, he makes you feel like you really are there.
If you like his books, may I recommend another author, George McDonald Fraser, who also writes historical fiction novels that are wonderful, and whose autobiographical account of his time in Burma in the second world war, “Quartered Safe Out Here”, should be required reading in every high school in the country.
I’ve read all of Fraser’s “Flashman” novels, Lucretia. I like the way he can place a totally unbelievable character in an extremely accurate historical setting. I laughed my through all of those books in less than a month. Very entertaining reading. I’ve yet to read any of Fraser’s nonfiction.
I just finished the latest (and, I guess, last) O’Brien book. A great loss, but what a body of work to leave behind! His biography of Sir Joseph Banks is very good, too.
Aubrey and Maturin really go far beyond the cardboard cut-out heroes of most historic fiction; they really seem to inhabit their particular time and place. O’Brien’s extensive use of social history (ashore as well as afloat) raises these books above mere fiction, to literature.
I hope to God he left provision in his will that the series was not to be sold or carried on by another hand; perhaps he left a short story in a safe somewhere killing off Jack and Stephen. I think I’d prefer that to some hack carrying on the series.
George MacDonald Fraser has written some excellent books beyond the great Flashman series. The General Danced at Dawn, MacAuslan in the Rough and The Sheik and the Dustbin are hilarious books based on incidents during MacDonald’s service in a Highland regiment in the British Army.
His book on his WW2 service in Burma with the British Army (Quartered Safe Out Here) is a classic, and will be enjoyed even by those who are not particularly interested in military writing.
What I enjoyed most about the Flashman series was the skill with which real history (and well-researched, factual history) was blended with the fiction.
Launcher may train without warning.
This is terrible news. I’ve read all of the Aubrey-Maturin series (most at least twice.)His books are amazing, and I agree with all that has been said about his accuracy. Calling these books nautical fiction or even historical fiction sells them short. His skill as a writer and insight into human motives was unsurpassed.
Ursa Marjor: I never read his books but still I am sad at his parting. I always feel that when a good author dies, a light goes out in the world.
Your gripe is the same as mine. I am tired of people slamming J.F.K. for his sexcapades and Einstein for his family life! I think people do it who are jealous. I particularly think that is true when its an author and a person who writes in a newspaper, or is in journalism. I have friends in journalism and they are many times frustrated writers. For a journalist to do what they did to O’Brian is like peeing on his grave if you ask me. (Not that you did )