January 7, 2002

The Yellow Admiral

The Yellow Admiral
Patrick O'Brian

The eighteenth of O'Brian's wonderful volumes of Jack Aubrey, RN and Dr. Stephen Maturin.

This immensely popular and much-loved series should teach us not to underestimate the patience, fortitude, and taste of the general reader. O'Brian is unsparing in his use of highly technical language, and (contrast Melville) almost never interrupts himself to explain a Bentinck shroud or a roborative beverage. His narratives unfold in complex, sometimes stately patterns that make few concessions to the conventions of the page-turner and yet prove wonderfully compelling. Critical action takes place offstage as often as not. O'Brian's ear for dialect is extraodrinary; late in the series, he's working in exactly the same period as Jane Austen, but his use of grammar to convey nuance of class and character strikes me as richer and more convincingly authentic than Austen's.