First off, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series is not for everyone. Twenty novels long, it is relentlessly convoluted and wildly idiosyncratic. (He was working on the twenty-first installment when he keeled over mid-sentence and fell to the earth like a massive, ancient redwood tree, crushing legions of grieving fans beneath him.)
The series takes place during the Napoleonic wars, as seen through the eyes of a British sea captain and his ship’s surgeon, both serving in Nelson’s navy.
Reasons why some people hate these books:
- No overt sex scenes.
- People talk funny.
- Extended, meandering passages about history, philosophy, animal biology, shipbuilding, land management, whale hunting, classical chamber music, etc.—all having nothing whatsoever to do with the plot.
Reasons why many, many people love these books:
- All of the above.
- The superb characters, relationships, and dialogue.
- Inventive plot twists and stunning visual imagery.
- Epic naval battles and their bloody aftermath.
- The utterly believable and fascinating depiction of a man-of-war’s crew, crowded together for months at a time and having no contact whatsoever with the rest of humanity.
- The jaw-dropping, evocative, and vibrant recreation of a world two centuries dead.
Reasons why I’d very much like to knee dear Patrick in the balls, if he were still alive:
- He was a far, far better novelist than I will ever be.
- He not only wrote this series, but a bazillion other things. Did the bastard never sleep?
- He was an absurdly gifted linguist, at home in half a dozen languages. I still mangle English nearly every day of my life.
- He knew everything about everything—Google probably removed his brain from his skull after he died and put it to use for their search engine—and he makes me feel stupid and lazy.
Reasons why I’d very much like to kiss the old show-off right on top of his shiny bald head:
- He’s given me more joy than any other writer I’ve ever read.
- He makes me laugh and cry every time I read him.
Thank you, Patrick. I hope you’re still writing books, wherever you are, and someday I’ll get a chance to read them. Bitch.