February 2, 2007

Patrick O'Brian

I am on my second reading (some books third) of the complete Aubry/Maturin novels (Master and Commander) by POB. These novels constitute some of the greatest fiction ever written, in my opinion. I give them a hearty recommendation. Give them a chance, it takes some time to get into the rhythm of the language.

The books exhibit some of the finest character studies ever, and are unequalled in action. There is also a very subtle humor in these books. Here is a brief passage from book seven, The Surgeon's Mate. Captain Aubry and his small sloop have just put into Gothenborg, Sweden for supplies. The Commandant of the fortress provides powder and "a present of smoked reindeer tongues and a barrel of salted honey-buzzards." These he presented to Doctor Maturin. The doctor is startled by the gift of buzzards. he asks the Commandant:

'Did you shoot them , sir?"

'Oh, no,' said the Commandant, quite shocked. "You must never shoot a honey-buzzard: it ruins the flavour. No: we strangle them.'

'Do they not resent this?'

'I think not,' said the Commandant...

The Commandant tells how there are numerous migratory birds on his property and they knock them out of the trees and then wring their necks. Says the Commandant:

'It has been done forever;all the best salted buzzards come from Falsterbo;and no doubt they are used to it.'

'Do eagles also appear sir?' asked Stephen [the doctor].

'Oh, yes, oh indeed!'

'Do you salt them too?'

'Oh, no" said the Commandant, amused. 'A salted eagle would be a very whimsical dish. They are always pickled, you know; otherwise they would eat intolerably dry.'

Do not let the movie fool you (although I enjoyed the movie), this is amusing, exciting and wonderful literature. You would do yourself a favor if you read these books. What else do you have to do this weekend?

* The Surgeon's Mate Norton paperback version 1992 pages 201/202

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