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Oct. 4th, 2004


#31: Thomas Mann, Tagebücher 1933-1934

Interesting as always, not the least because of the historical/political background.

#32: Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander

Very well written, a joy to read, introducing you to a world you've so far been unfamiliar with, a book to make you giggle and laugh out loud, characters quirkily original, at once interesting and likeable... How can you not love them? What more can one want in a book? I so enjoyed reading it that I feel quite bad for finding any fault with it, but the novel's one weakness is its plot, or rather the lack thereof. Over four hundred pages, where nothing much happens; there's the odd sea-fight, we see Jack establishing his authority and forging his crew into a well-functioning unit, there's the court martial in the end, but there are no great dramatic arcs, no real emotional build-up. Dillon's conflict of consciousness is touched upon, but never really resolved, the plot-line cut short by his death. It gives the whole thing a kind of soap-opera-esque quality, but after all, it only is the introduction to a twenty volume series...

But this is really a minor quibble and doesn't diminish the enjoyment.

What actually most amazed me was to learn that the series has a sizeable male following, because techno babble nautical terminology and details aside, more often than not this is reminiscent of nothing as much as Jane Austen. A gay kind of Jane Austen, on ship board instead of in a drawing room. More explict, with darker, appropriately realistic touches - while he doesn't exactly dwell on the more unpleasant sides of naval life or battle, he never lets you forget them for too long either - but there's a quite Austen-esque irony, sense of understated humour in small touches.

Perhaps one can't altogether escape clichéed ideas what male or female writing is 'supposed' to be like, even while rejecting them in one's mind, because what I find really wonderful is that these characters were in fact created by a man, male characters that aren't gruff, monosyllabic and generally emotionally stunted, but men who are emotional, moody, who have no problems talking about their feelings, who have this really deep, beautiful friendship...

And don't even let me start on the slashiness, that's a subject for a entry of its own...

Another pleasant thing is that this is a novel you can read whether or not you are interested in or knowledgable about ships: I don't have the slightest emotional attachment to ships (Conrad's novels tend to leave me slightly baffled) and probably couldn't identify the various parts of one even in German, but at the end of M&C one has acquired a tolerable knowledge of what's what, without ever having been left in a lurch for too long or bored by over-lengthy explanations.

I'm good for at least another volume or five, if perhaps not for all twenty of them...

#33: Peter David, The Long Night of Centauri Prime. Book 1: Legions of Fire

Not bad at all; the best and most in character B5 novel I've read so far. Perhaps not perfect, but definitely an improvement on what I've come to expect after Cavelo's and Drennan's work; competent prose, fast paced, the canon characters spot-on and the original characters quite interesting and fitting well into the plot.

#34: Donald Windham, The Dog Star

Strange, how in some ways utterly alien a novel set in the south of the US during the 40ies can be... Came across this book in TM's diaries, and it is indeed a powerful novel, that drew me in, despite the fact that the subject itself didn't instantly appeal to me. The protagonist's teenage angst sense of alienation, search for identity, the male insecurity turning (among other things) into misogyny and violence, is something that at this point of my life I have only limited interest in.

It was only towards the end that the narration really gripped me, when Blacky's decision to reject any outside influence, to cut all emotional ties, drives him faster and faster towards the inevitable outcome; here in my opinion the story transcends the subject and becomes more... universally valid, in a way.

The prose is maybe what fascinated me most throughout - quite spectecular, simple, clipped, sometimes almost brutal, yet at times also astonishingly poetical; very evocative, creating images and impressions that linger, lines and paragraphs that make you stop and re-read.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 5th, 2004 06:47 am (UTC)
I loved Master and Commander too, and I really wasn't expecting it to be so funny, so sly, and just so damn good. I've heard from a friend who's read a couple more into the series that the first one is really scattered compared to the rest, perhaps a function of not really being sure it would develop into a series and wanting to cram as much variety in as possible. My friend said that subsequent books are much more focused.
Oct. 5th, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
I really wasn't expecting it to be so funny, so sly, and just so damn good.

That's it exactly. Even with so many people praising it I was a little wary, expected long historical and longer nautical expositions, all very grave & serious, but then I looked at the first few pages at amazon.com and when it didn't start on a ship, or with a ship, but with a string quartet and Aubrey and Maturin's meeting there, I was intrigued, but it still surprised me. I didn't expect to be quite so charmed by it...

(I'm 160 pages into Post Captain and it does indeed seem a little tighter, more plot driven.)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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