Xander reading

Why I love Patrick O'Brian

A brief excerpt from my favorite of his novels, HMS Surprise.
The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress, slow, serious trouble with the mainmast-- unaccountable headwinds by night-- and sipping a glass of grog; Stephen was in the mizentop, teaching Bonden to write and scanning the sea for his first albatross. The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. 'Try a piece of this, old cock,' he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. 'It might put a little heart into you.' The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.

Some minutes later he felt a touch upon his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying toward the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.

'In this bucket,' said Stephen, walking into the cabin, 'in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London, and Paris combined: these animalculae-- what is the matter with the sloth?' It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable bleary face, shook it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.

Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, 'Jack, you have debauched my sloth.'

I ask you: is this not wonderful writing?

I was thinking about O'Brian just now as I pondered how to move a story forward in time. I remembered how O'Brian sometimes does it: he just goes. No transition, no filler "as the month passed blah blah". Just boom. And so that's what I did. We'll see how it works out.
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"You have debauched my sloth" has got to be one of the top literary lines ever.
Total agreement.

I love Surprise all around. The chase in the Indian Ocean, the first time I read it, impelled me to put the book down to pace around the room I was so worked up about it.
Do read at least one! Highly recommended. The series falls off at the very end, and the last couple of books are not up to the standard of the first group. But there are 20, so there is much pleasure to be had.

The movie was surprisingly good. Russell Crowe made a fine Jack Aubrey.
I *did* see, and quite enjoy, the movie. Though the presence fo Billy Boyd intermittently distracted me with thoughts of "No! Don't let Pippin drive the ship!"