mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Finished The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian, Master & Commander series) and in my grasshopper reading fashion have begun Treason's Harbour, third along from Fortune. Having just moaned about being spoiled by other people's chance remarks, I agree it makes no sense that I spoil myself in this fashion. FortuneofWar spoiled the whole of Desolation Island- which is actually OK, since I can't read my copy of Desolation Island: the typeface gets between me and the words. Yes, princess and the pea. Treason's Harbour is currently spoiling The Ionian Expedition, and that's OK too. I shall read Ionian in any case because it sounds like the prototype of Black Powder War, or portions thereof.

This has all left me wishing Novik had borrowed more- much much more- from O'Brian than she did. Novik's settei is so lovely, I feel it deserves the same solid satisfying feel as O'Brian's work, the same weight of narration and unquestionable sense of place and period. I love Temeraire, yes, but there's a lightweight quality about it that makes me sad.

Alas, to have the same weight as O'Brian you probably have to be born in 1915. His affinity for Napoleonic Europe must owe much to growing up in a world where the culture of a hundred years' earlier was still emotionally familiar and not the Martian artefact that, say, Edwardian looks like to us now. I know the first war was a shocking watershed in people's minds, but the full disjunct (judging by the British writers I read) didn't take effect until after the second. Oh- and full disclosure here- my parents were born a few years before O'Brian was; granted they were Canadian-raised, still, some very 19th century European/ English attitudes lingered in their thinking. I wasn't allowed out by myself in the evening- even early evening- until I turned eighteen; adamantine dictate of You *must* have someone with you, and much difficulty in getting myself and friend- always- to the 8 pm ballet when I was, yanno, sixteen; but when I turned 18, suddenly it was OK for me to stay out till 2 am painting sets and no one breathed a word. "When I walk down the street I can't understand what half the people are saying," my father complained some time in the 1980's. I was surprised. Why would you want to? Isn't it *fun* playing Guess That Tongue with the multi-cultural channel programming on Sunday afternoon? (Maltese was the stumper, I recall.)

Equally of course, what gives O'Brian his solidity for me is- well, all those boats and all those battles. It's not just that he knows what he's talking about with them, and loves what he's talking about, so that even if you can't tell one sail from another you know perfectly well that *he* can, and isn't talking about spinnakers and top-gallants just to add versililitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. I still don't know what parts of a ship are involved and haven't a clue what's going on in the various battles, by and large; but without the weighty and informed background of the ships Jack sails, Jack would be a less convincing character. Ditto, to a slightly less extent, with Stephen's birds and whatever. Jack is a sailor first and foremost, and a husband, sensualist, gambler and expansive optimist second; Stephen is a naturalist first and foremost, and a secret agent, lover, philosopher and profoundly conflicted personality second. I read the books for the bits about the husband, secret agent, extrovert and introvert: but without the boats and the birds I'd be reading regency romances, not historical novels.

Thing being I doubt that anyone would sit through long descriptions of dragon trappings and aerial manoeuvres these days, quite apart from the fact that dragon tactics must all be invented whole by the author, while O'Brian could get his from naval histories, or just getting out in a boat. But I wish there was more-- I don't know-- time, maybe, to Novik's writing. Just to mention one point: the body count in O'Brian is as high as in Novik. People die suddenly and without authorial comment, and quite often I can't quite remember who these people are. Equally, quite often I can, because they've been in and out of the previous action- that shipboard action where nothing much happens as I count plot- a lot throughout the book. In Novik I usually can't remember who the soldiers are who die. They're names; I haven't had a chance to get to know them well because the plot has been doing other things than having them natter on about dragon harness and thus establish themselves, even in the corner of my consciousness, as characters.

And speaking of names- this will come oddly from a Johnson, but dommage- Novik's names are all solid established English ones and I *cannot* keep them apart. She really needs to look at the wonderful variety of English names and get away from the Thomsons and Robertsons. (First year Japanese, half the class Chinese, half the class round-eye, sensei has us practise introductions with a kind of memory game. A-san introduces herself; B says 'watakushi wa B desu, kochira wa (indicating A on her left) A-san desu.' C repeats: Watakushi wa C desu; kochira wa A-san to B-san desu.' You can guess what happened. The Chinese students went rattling great guns through 'Lim-san, Wong-san, Sui-san, Chan-san' and stumbled at the round-eye names. The round-eyes went fluently through Bickersteth-san, Gilmour-san, Cuddington-san and even Kischuk-san and faltered after Lim-san Wong-san uhh Shin-san? Novik's names now sound to me the way the Chinese ones did then, without the benefit of hanzi as a mnemonic.)

And this is last day of Diwali, I see. Does one wish people Happy New Year tomorrow? Happy New Year tomorrow, if so.
Tags: chinese, language, o'brian, reading_07

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