Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander is an extraordinarily well-written sea story, first in a series of popular novels featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, M.D. A friend lent me the book and I've enjoyed it tremendously --- but noteworthy for me was not the exacting technical maritime detail, nor the Napoleonic atmosphere, nor the splendid characterization, nor the exciting plot, nor any of the other features that one usually appreciates most in good fiction.

No, the most striking aspect of Master and Commander is the ubiquitous illusion of control that the author conveys. Virtually without exception O'Brian's characters are take-charge individuals. They observe their situation, decide what to do next, and then act. Their choices govern events, even in the thick of battle. There's none of the fog of war, the chaos, the cascading mistakes that in reality tend to dominate serious conflict. There's also scarcely any pain or panic.

I'm not complaining --- O'Brian is a fine author and I applaud his prose. I simply wish real life were so well engineered ...

(see also OnFriction (14 Aug 1999), ObserveOrientDecideAct (4 Feb 2000), MissionStatement (2 Nov 2001), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicLife - 2005-03-04

(correlates: GrayGreenGap, ThisSide, MyJob, ...)