April 4, 2005 5:19 PM Subscribe
I'm a huge fan of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series of novels. Recently I took a break from the books, not only to catch up with all the other books I was neglecting in favour of my literary addiction, but also because I felt I needed a vacation from my old friends the captain and the doctor. Now I'm wondering: What are similarly good and addictive novels, or series of novels?
posted by gentle to writing & language (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not necessarily looking for something very similar; it doesn't have to be 19th century nautical warfare, 19th century anything, or indeed nautical anything. That said, I love historical novels, and I do love the smell of gunpowder in the morning.
What impresses me more than anything about O'Brian is the low-key and indirect approach: he is amazingly subtle. He never explains the subtext, never embellishes the action or the violence (physical or otherwise, but always brutal), and the narrative is carved out of terse, rough, slightly archaic turns of phrase, lighting and colour like a William Turner paintining, managing the great feat of seeming real and immediate and also ancient -- historic, distant and even epic, in O'Brian's peculiarly restrained way.
The only other authors that have, in my reading experience, accomplished the same feat are Tolkien and -- seriously -- James Ellroy. Conversely, I thought Robert Graves' I, Claudius would be a garden of literary delights -- the Roman empire! Ancient history! Neat! -- and while I appreciate his occasional poetic bent, it's pretty dry stuff, full of encyclopedic exposition. I also checked out Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, and while it's reasonably well written, it's a little too straightforward and pulp-fictionish for my taste; Cornwell may have visited Europe during the Napoleonic wars, but O'Brian damn well lived there.
So what should I delve into? It should be a little dusty -- but not too dusty -- and a little off the beaten Book of the Month Club path. It should be intelligent and challenging and well-written. Series is a bonus, but not a requirement. I don't mind genre fiction at all.