It's pretty amazing, when you think of it, that O'Brian can make the Napoleonic war at sea so dull. Not so in his other books. I'm a fan of Patrick O'Brian, and his other books are wonderful. In Letter of Marque, though, nothing happens for the first quarter of the book. Then you get to the second quarter, where nothing happens also. In the third quarter, Jack Aubrey sets sail for a distant location where he hopes to find an enemy ship. Sail, sail, sail. Aubrey and Maturin talk a lot. The crew eat a lot of flying fish. The ship gets painted. There's high drama when one of the crew comes down with an impacted wisdom tooth. Then more sailing, sailing, sailing. No engagements. No battles. Finally in the last quarter of the book, they meet the ship they were sailing to meet. And take her. You were expecting a rousing sea battle? So was I . But no. They take her by surprise. There is a boarding party skirmish, but this is dispensed with in less than two minutes of narration. Really. That's it for the action. Back to the impacted wisdom tooth and more boredom. It's hard to believe this is the same Patrick O'Brian who wrote the stirring, emotionally involving other books in this series. I'd regret giving away the punchline in this review, except that there is no punchline. Nothing happens. The book is a great soporific though.
This is a serious maritime history, which is hard to find these days. It is excellently narrated by Charles Constant, who has the voice for it, and the intuitive feel for this type of material. Some of the sentences in the book are long and complex. Mr Constant knows where to pause verbally to break them into understandable segments. And he knows how to give emphasis without over-dramatizing. I'm a dedicated history reader (and listener). I wish some of my other favorite history audiotapes had been narrated by this man. Too often, the books are narrated by people who don't have a feel for the material, and don't how to pace it verbally. This, on the other hand, is a first-rate performance.
Graf Spee by Dudley Pope. Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. Along with this book, they are serious histories, related in a way that is respectful of the material.
Captain Ernst Lindemann. A master seaman, who took what care he could for his men under ultimately terrible circumstances.
If it wasn't so predictable. And if the characters were not so cartoonish. LeCarre's first few books were wonderful, complex, and unpredictable. His last few run like this: The good guys will end badly. They will end badly after making utterly stupid mistakes that the protagonists in his first few novels would have considered incompetent. In "A Delicate Truth" the good guys, all of them, achieve nothing toward their moral and praiseworthy goal, because they act like rookies, despite their years of experience and knowledge of tradecraft.
Something not by John LeCarre.
The last half of the novel.
I used to love John LeCarre. That was when his characters, both good and evil, behaved intelligently. His last 4 novels involve characters who behave like rank amateurs. In "A Delicate Truth", the main protagonist doesn't see things coming, which a 3rd grade reader would see coming a mile away. There is never any surprise anymore in his novels. The good guys are moral. They are self-defeating. They will end up very badly. The instrument of their bad ends will be telegraphed long before the end of the novel, and reader will wonder how the protagonist could not have seen it coming, when everyone else could. Sad ending for John LeCarre. He used to be able to write fiction. Now he writes cartoons.
This isn't just the story of the 10th Legion. It's also the story of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Marc Antony, Rome's civil wars, and so much more. It's told in an interesting manner, never dry or boring despite its richness of proper sourcing and crediting. I wish more history was told so entertainingly and accurately.
This writer has potential, but he needs a good editor. He tends to overwrite. Massively. Every scene and every sentence. There are many, many characters to keep track of. Some writers can handle this well, such as the American southern writers. This writers should be exhumed, brought back to life, and forced to read Faulkner, Herman Wouk, and Pat Conroy.
Conroy is an amazing writer, and this is his best novel. It's dense and rich and funny and tragic in places. He's a southern writer in the classic tradition: his novels are peopled by legions of characters, and none of them are cardboard. There are at least a dozen major characters here (!), and all are fully-fleshed-out, complex, human, with unique voice and character traits that make them come alive. The way they interact with one another makes this a relentlessly interesting and satisfying story. So what's it about? Geez. It's about Tom Wingo and his brilliant but psychotic sister Savanah, and good-ole-boy-cum-philosopher Luke. Plus their mom. And their dad. And their grandparents. And... well, read the damn thing. You'll see. It's absolutely engrossing. He's a writer of compassion and wit and laugh-out-loud humor. I personally liked the earlier Wolfram Kandinsky narration best, but Conroy likes this one by Muller best; and Muller, as always, is exceptional, bested by no one in the narration universe except Wolfram Kandinsky.
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