Last time I wrote a review of Master and Commander, it ran, well, long. It's hard not to lavish the love one has for the whole series upon its firstLast time I wrote a review of Master and Commander, it ran, well, long. It's hard not to lavish the love one has for the whole series upon its first splendid installment. I'll do my best to be brief.
Patrick O'Brian writes strong, varied and evocative prose. His characters are distinctive, human and easy to love. These books teem with the unexpected, with the promise of a battle or a rich prize always over the horizon. They are a joy to read and to reread; funny, poignant, stirring, intelligent.
Master and Commander is, as I believe all the Aubrey-Maturin series is, on one level about friendship. The chance encounter that opens the novel also opens up the lives of the characters to unforeseen breadth and potential. Aubrey's genius on the sea needs Maturin's wary guardianship on land to allow it to prosper; Maturin's morbid inwardness leaves him in need of Jack's bluff friendship and practicality to pull him back into the human world. The entire rich sweep of the novels begins in the encounter of the jolly lieutenant and the annoyed man in the drab coat, depends and expounds on the way deep friendships can transform the friends and the world....more
The second installment of the Aubrey-Maturin chronicles is long, and has the unpredictable, organic rhythm one comes to expect of the books: the smallThe second installment of the Aubrey-Maturin chronicles is long, and has the unpredictable, organic rhythm one comes to expect of the books: the small and large concerns chasing each other, defeat crowding upon victory, action on small, daily joys.
This volume brings us deeper into the landed life of the two protagonists, and explores new highs and lows in their friendship. It also brings us new ships to love and hate, blazing action, and the difference between the wizened heads of male and female gibbons....more
Though a second reading is less uncomfortable than the first (the edge of the seat is so sharp, and bad for circulation!) this is still an exciting, dThough a second reading is less uncomfortable than the first (the edge of the seat is so sharp, and bad for circulation!) this is still an exciting, dare I say epic installment of the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin. With few sentences, O'Brian lets us infer a tragic story and a driving hatred that create the climactic chase of the book.
One of my favorite P.O'B. books.
Further thoughts (on the fourth or fifth reading): This book is a classic 'out of the frying pan, into the fire' adventure. From the sharp practices of landsmen on rich sailors to a vicious blow in the Bay of Biscay, and on and on into more and more pressing perils. It should not be missed.
More than that, I might also say that it represents a crisis in Maturin's affairs: the point where it must be shown if hatred of Napoleon and love of the natural world are strong enough to maintain a man's interest in life when he has a broken heart.
A crucial installment in the series by any accounting. Also, of course, so well-written that a professor of mine in grad school used a section of it to illustrate effective sentence construction....more
I never know what to say about Patrick O'Brian books in reviews. It's another Patrick O'Brian book; it made me laugh, made my pulse mount, made me staI never know what to say about Patrick O'Brian books in reviews. It's another Patrick O'Brian book; it made me laugh, made my pulse mount, made me stay up past my bedtime and lose great chunks of my day. Oh, and this one made me cry as well.
This one is particularly notable for the titular frigate, with whom I dare say any susceptible reader, not just Jack Aubrey, will fall deeply in love. The usual heady mixture of Aubrey's action and worries with Maturin's explorations and cogitations, topped off as ever with their great friendship.
Notes on rereading: this book is more Maturin's book than Aubrey's, although the massive sea action in the middle does give him his time in the limelight. Also, I think it's even harder to put down than the average Aubrey-Maturin volume. Out of the frying pan into the fire into the fleet action......more
I do enter upon my rereadings of Patrick O'Brian books with an open mind. I am willing to give fewer than five stars to each book before I read it. HoI do enter upon my rereadings of Patrick O'Brian books with an open mind. I am willing to give fewer than five stars to each book before I read it. However, at some point, sweeping down upon the blaggardly French under a great press of sail, foreboding the ruin of a tragically flawed officer, or smiling at Aubrey's sweet simplicity, it becomes impossible not to give it every star at my command.
Mauritius Command is a particularly cohesive volume, more united in purpose than most, comprising as it does one fictionalized campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. An intimidating military and political undertaking, requiring Maturin's cunning, Aubrey's nautical genius, and something in which Aubrey has never been tested: facility for high command.
Note upon rereading: O'Brian's dry humor has some of its purest moments of expression in this volume....more
Another excellent installment in the chronicles of Aubrey and Maturin; unusual among those books for its lack of any command for Aubrey. The naval batAnother excellent installment in the chronicles of Aubrey and Maturin; unusual among those books for its lack of any command for Aubrey. The naval battles witnessed by the characters are strictly rendered historical battles, and thus cannot fall under Aubrey's fictional command.
More of this volume concerns social and intelligence matters than the purely naval, and it's often quite exciting in the spy line....more
A good installment into which to sink one's reading teeth.
As he continues to stretch himself and his characters, Patrick O'Brian finds a rather differA good installment into which to sink one's reading teeth.
As he continues to stretch himself and his characters, Patrick O'Brian finds a rather different task for them to undertake than the grand cruises and endless chases of the open sea, and a setting more rich in the dangers of coastal fortifications and the looming leeshore.
New characters include the droll Jagiello, and new situations abound, including some almost reminiscent of Dumas....more
I'm not sure how I ended up with this book -- I believe it was recommended by Recorded Books Unlimited, I vaguely remembered its being controversial,I'm not sure how I ended up with this book -- I believe it was recommended by Recorded Books Unlimited, I vaguely remembered its being controversial, and thus I added it to my RBU list as part of my sworn duty to P.O.t.R.R.
It's the sort of story I like, in theory, one told in the interstices of known tales, in between icons and themes we know and to which we are drawn. The fact that this unknown story is that of the women in a man's story adds interest. From that point of view, it is interesting. It not only provides an intriguing imagined life to the flat names and begats of the Bible's women, but reminds one how much could be and would be unsaid, how many women and even gods have been forgotten.
That said, it often strays into cliche, the writing is serviceable but seldom moving, and the extreme prettiness of the female characters, handsomeness of the love interests, and lustiness of their nuptial joys can grate.
Interesting, engaging and imaginative, but occasionally trite or excessive.
The reader, Carol Bilger, does a fine job, and the musical interludes (mostly at the ends and beginnings of tapes) are genuinely appropriate and atmospheric....more
I liked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's first novel, Purple Hibiscus, so I picked up her second, more ambitious book. It's set before and during the NigeI liked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's first novel, Purple Hibiscus, so I picked up her second, more ambitious book. It's set before and during the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970.
I don't call this book more ambitious than Purple Hibiscus just because it tackles a war within living memory. It has multiple points of view, and executes a few small chronological jumps. Each of the point-of-view characters, who differ in age, race, gender and class, traces a believable and human arc. This is no small feat, and Adichie pulls it off handily. Adichie's writing style is a little hard to describe. It doesn't draw attention to itself with virtuosic description, but it's very effective: she puts the right word in the right place, and is very adept at choosing the perfect detail to make a scene or moment come to life.
The book starts out with a rather leisurely pace and following the most naive POV character, the houseboy Ugwu. This allowed a non-Nigerian reader like me to get her bearings, and then ensured I really knew the characters and cared about them before larger events began to affect their lives. The book is very moving, and occasionally hard to read. Even though I knew it was coming, the first outbreak of violence was shocking, an almost physical shock. She does a beautiful job of showing us large events through individual lives.
Adichie tells a complex and disturbing story with a large, vivid cast, and draws it to an ending that feels true. A remarkable book.
Notes on the audiobook: The narrator, Robin Miles, was amazing. She apparently won an award for this recording, and I'm not surprised: she does great voices of all ages, both genders, with accents from Alabama, small Nigerian villages, London, and combinations thereof. That's on top of great diction and dramatic sense. I may have a new favorite narrator (sorry, Davina Porter.)...more
Well, it's been proven: you can still write a novel with an omniscient narrator. I don't pretend that setting it in the historical past (the U.S. homeWell, it's been proven: you can still write a novel with an omniscient narrator. I don't pretend that setting it in the historical past (the U.S. homefront during WWI) doesn't help, but it can obviously still be done, and done well.
Apart from settling that debate, The Hearts of Horses is an enjoyable read, more page-turning than its quiet, even-tempered tone would initially give you cause to guess. It may prompt you to chuckle in company, and, when pressed, explain lamely, "Just horses being horses." It gives you a sense of these animals, these people, and even this country, even though they are invented from hoof to hillock. It's a beautiful trip you'll be glad to have taken....more
This was a strange book, but very good. Part of what it does, quite deliberately I believe, is change course several times. I knew about the fantasticThis was a strange book, but very good. Part of what it does, quite deliberately I believe, is change course several times. I knew about the fantastic element in the book before buying it -- that, along with having read some of Molly's other gorgeous writing, pretty much sold it to me -- but I think the publisher would have served the book better by giving it a cover that didn't code it so unambiguously as Western historical fiction. Its ambiguities are part of its loveliness, and should be celebrated instead of simplified away.
The story is told largely in diary entries by the 1900s adventure-writer protagonist, Charlotte, with interpolated articles and pieces of her published fiction. There are also interludes from other perspectives which I concluded were also written by Charlotte, and show a maturation in her insight and compassion that is, in its way, foreshadowing of the events of the book and their impact on her. In the early sections, before the plot ramps up, it's her voice that carries us along -- plucky and stubborn but also aware of her own failings and occasional ridiculousness. To a writer, female or not, her notes on and soul-searching about finding time for writing and negotiating your own literary ambitions will resonate.
Once Charlotte leaves on her quest -- to help find a lost child, which isn't a spoiler since it's mentioned on the first page's 'cover letter' -- some of the themes, like modernity and mechanization, start to come to the forefront. The landscape and equipment of 1900s logging in the Northwest United States is very interesting, and unfamiliar to most of us. Charlotte's self-conscious progressiveness and discomfort with primordial wildness becomes easy to understand in context when we see the vast taming action being carried out against the land.
As for the latter half, I'm unwilling to affect others' reading of it by going into much detail, but I will say that it follows a structure -- the deliberately paced, background-building plot that culminates in a transformative, lyrical journey -- that I enjoyed in Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, and it's equally hard-hitting and effective here. The climactic and concluding sections of the book kept me pressed to the page, wiping away tears. I felt my skin prickle with the sense of visiting, or being visited by, another world lost in and for our own....more
I've already been an Atwood admirer for a few years, but The Blind Assassin is too gorgeous to merely admire. I love it. Where it isn't exquisite, itI've already been an Atwood admirer for a few years, but The Blind Assassin is too gorgeous to merely admire. I love it. Where it isn't exquisite, it's precise. It moves expertly between the dry, the brutally truthful, and the passionate, and brings the keenness of the author's eye to them all. Atwood describes both the elusive and the everyday with a transforming grace.
All that is merely on the level of prose, of paragraph. Her narrator is human, complex, and honest. The other characters are interesting, Laura chiefly so, of course, and I appreciate the way Iris acknowledges and interrogates her own inability to do others' characters justice. I particularly appreciated the way that Atwood drew us into the book with the mystery of Laura, and then gradually made us (well, me, at any rate) fonder and fonder of Iris. A beautiful literary bait and switch.
All this and a compelling plot. Really, if I try to think of something wrong with this book, the first thing that swims to mind is that it's more than a little intimidating to a young author. My consolation is that she was 61 when it was published. I still have some years to practice....more
I've read quite a few Anne Perry novels in both the Pitt and Monk series, and this one managed to surprise me regardless. A more sidelong and attenuatI've read quite a few Anne Perry novels in both the Pitt and Monk series, and this one managed to surprise me regardless. A more sidelong and attenuated connection than usual between the worlds of Thomas's professional life and Charlotte's social meddling made this a challenging mystery indeed. More political than usual, the story of blackmail and secret societies takes place during an intriguing time in London's history -- when the failure to catch Jack the Ripper had called the continued existence of the police force into some question....more
As usual from Anne Perry, this was an engaging mystery. I wanted to know how it ended, and had perhaps better success than usual in working out the enAs usual from Anne Perry, this was an engaging mystery. I wanted to know how it ended, and had perhaps better success than usual in working out the end before it became readily apparent. Thomas and Charlotte are always charming, and Gracie (the maid) was rather winning here as well.
I did feel that this book suffered from the characters' being eager to expound on their philosophical, religious and political feelings. One or two people -- passionate, as many of these were -- who run off at the mouth are understandable. But when suspect after suspect and neighbor after neighbor digresses into long, frank tirades and phillippics, it seems like too much exposition. This may be because of the incorporation of historical figures and controversies into this volume, or part of the more thematically focused nature of this book (compared to others by the author.) At any rate, I found it distracting, and it was capped by both Charlotte and Vespasia being rather obnoxiously didactic in the closing scene.
About the audiobook: Davina Porter is my favorite Recorded Books narrator, and she is a perfect match for these books. She has flawlessly clear enunciation, a variety of voices at her command, and consistently gives the dialogue precisely the emotional tone it requires....more
I read this years ago, in a "Bengali Literature: in English and in Translation" class I took. I remember it being very beautifully written and absorbiI read this years ago, in a "Bengali Literature: in English and in Translation" class I took. I remember it being very beautifully written and absorbing. A college freshman, I still retained some of my teenage tendency to shun darkness or unpleasantness in stories, but this book's writing drew me in and onward regardless. A rich and rewarding read, as I recall....more
In my World Lit class as a freshman in college, each professor taught the set curriculum plus one book of their choosing. One of my professors chose tIn my World Lit class as a freshman in college, each professor taught the set curriculum plus one book of their choosing. One of my professors chose this.
I can't be sure if I would make more of the writing itself today -- I often find translated prose flat -- but I can say with certainty that the characters are uniformly unappealing, the plot brutal, and many scenes nauseating. I remember the book mainly for its revulsion factor and because I wondered so intensely why it was chosen.
I believe the book was trying to depict the inhumanity that harsh conditions (flood and famine in 1930's China) can foster, but if there were greater goals in mind than cheap shock and visceral disgust, it failed with this reader and in this translation....more
This book was entertaining in parts, and I enjoyed the peek into the world of Flemish weavers' workshops. I didn't find the characters very engaging,This book was entertaining in parts, and I enjoyed the peek into the world of Flemish weavers' workshops. I didn't find the characters very engaging, though, and occasionally I thought their actions and motivations did not match up. I am not sure that the benefits of the multiple first-person narrators -- the 'weaving' conceit, the ability to impart secrets directly to the reader -- outweighed the repetition, uneven appeal, and occasional clunkiness it gave the story.
Notes on the audiobook reading: the two readers (male and female) did well, and differentiated the voices capably....more
This was an evocative and fairly straightforward novel in the form of a family memoir. Its initial setting in 19th century San Francisco is rich and cThis was an evocative and fairly straightforward novel in the form of a family memoir. Its initial setting in 19th century San Francisco is rich and charming, its characters winning and iconic. It has something of the Victorian in its narrative rhymes -- the echoes of one generation's fate in the next -- and its coincidental encounters. It never failed to interest or touch me, even when I foresaw the next twist in the road.
Audiobook note: The narrator was fabulous, and very convincing (although I'm no scholar of Spanish or Chilean native, so I could easily be deceived.)...more
This is perhaps the most epistolary novel I've ever read. It consists almost entirely of letters between a young writer living in London, her friends,This is perhaps the most epistolary novel I've ever read. It consists almost entirely of letters between a young writer living in London, her friends, and a cast of assorted and eccentric characters living and reading on the small island of Guernsey (between England and France). It's set right after World War Two, and through the letters friendships grow and the story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands emerges.
I found this book charming. Despite its setting in the aftermath of war and tragedy, it's light and funny, with odd, appealing characters and some ridiculous situations. The epistolary style of course allows for a lot of play with voice and character, and it also communicates some of the differences between then and now. Would any of us dream of sending a letter to ask someone to dinner that evening? Or of two more letters being exchanged before the dinner goes forward? It's little details like that, and the high cost of undamaged phones in post-Blitz London, that easily transport us to the past.
Notes on the audiobook edition: Having multiple narrators doing several accents really pays off here (though at least one accent was fairly laughable.) The audiobook's main fault, in my opinion, lies in the chief narrator, performing the protagonist Juliet Ashton's letters. Her performance is overdone, taking a character who should be effortlessly charming into the territory of the self-consciously twee. I liked Juliet in spite of her....more