As for writing a novel, I'd better put a cork on that. I finished Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander yesterday and observed I'd never write as well as he does, not even if I tried for a thousand years.
One thing about O'Brian is he's an artist, not your ordinary sort of writer. That is, he draws scenes, and the words serve as his paintbrush. As artists go, he's an impressionist. The reader must work to shake out what's going on. O'Brian won't pat your hand and say, "Now, now, we're getting up, dear old Sir, so please put your slippers on," none of that, he zips from point to point without very much in the way of transition. The reader's brain must work overtime, sometimes rereading to puzzle out what is going on in the story. One adjusts to this challenging style, because it has the advantage of compactness. O'Brian draws a scene in ten pages that would take another writer fifty, while imparting more nuance. He does not waste the reader's time and is never boring.
Of course O'Brian's a classic nerd, having devoured every single fact and legend concerning the British Navy of the 1700s-1800s, and he flaunts his knowledge until the reader is cowed into accepting the writer's indisputable authority. I don't know one sail from another, it's all Greek to me. I just marvel. I suppose that the gentleman must have spent a good chunk of his life reading naval histories and stories. I don't even like sailing, but I like Patrick O'Brian's novels about sailing. That's the mark of a great author, that he can hook landlubbers like me with his naval stories. I rank O'Brian up there with the best of the best, and I can only wonder why Gore Vidal never reviewed his books, but Vidal preferred dead authors to living competitors and probably found O'Brian reactionary, although I think O'Brian's personal views may be found in the speech of his character Stephen Maturin, who was liberal enough for me.
When I think of the times I wanted to write a historical novel, I blush in shame, because I know good and well my knowledge of times past is not one-tenth O'Brian's. My effort would turn out just like the ones of those historical novelists I read in the library and put down in contempt.
So read O'Brian and despair, ye budding writers!Post a Comment