Repetition in literary works

I recently completed my third re-reading (over an 11 year period) of the Aubrey-Maturin series. Patrick O’brian is without a doubt one of my favorite authors. Offhand I can’t think of any contemporary writers that exhibit the same fluent ease and facility he demonstrated in capturing early 19th century idioms and vocabulary, to say nothing of his apparently encyclopedic knowledge of sailing ships. That said, I found myself for the first time fast-forwarding through or entirely skipping over some of the passages in several of the books. I found there was a certain dull repetitiveness.

For instance, pretty much in every book Steven Maturin falls into the water while transferring between vessels. This almost invites comparison with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character getting her cars blown up every book! Sure, it’s important for our heroes to have foibles and faults and Maturin’s particular weakness is his complete ineptitude as a mariner despite his many years at sea, but is the obligatory fall in the water every book absolutely necessary? Another example of repetitiveness can be found in the descriptions of Jack Aubrey’s attitudes and behaviors preceding nearly every combat engagement (made sure the crew was fed prior to action….the piratical gleam in his eye at the prospect of a prize…paced the deck silently while a hundred shifting variables intuitively worked themselves out in his head, etc.)

Because the books are part of a series I think it fair the reader should expect a certain amount of repetitive exposition at the beginning of each book to give new readers some notion of what has passed and at least a very rudimentary idea of the characters’ foundations. O’brian does this but I wonder if he intentionally kept it to a minimum at the beginning of each book, hoping he could supply other salient details later on in the narrative. The problem being that he still ended up having to repeat the same explanations over and over (e.g. yep, Steven Maturin was addicted to laudanum and later cocaine. Yep, Jack Aubrey made and lost several fortunes through his simplicity on land).

Perhaps I’m being too hard by half?:smiley: Maybe the difficulties named are inevitable for any series. It’s possible readers might even expect this kind of repetition and actually cry out if it were missing. Maybe I should simply wait a lot longer between re-readings. But do you ever find yourself growing a bit impatient with the repetition found in this series - or any other literary series for that matter?

For the first seven or eight books (or so it seems) of The Dresden Files Jim Butcher gives a detailed description of the inside of Mac’s pub the first time Harry goes in. I assume this is in case the reader hasn’t read the earlier books. There are similar repeated descriptions (like Murphy’s appearance and physique) but the pub descriptions stick in my head because the wording is remarkably similar each time.

Outlander has trained me to bellow “DON’T GET ON THE DAMN BOAT, CLAIRE!” every time Claire is about to get on a boat, because it always turns out the same way: she’s held captive on the boat and Jamie has to save her. The series has covered forty years of their lives by now. You think she’d realize.