New York Times Book Review
“If a measure of good short fiction is its continuing ability to arrest attention, Mr. O'Brian's collection can surely be counted a success.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Relentlessly detailed exposition and naturalistic description are the strengths of British novelist O'Brian, esteemed for his Aubrey/Maturin nautical adventure historicals ( Master and Commander ; Post Captain ). The author's rather monochromatic technique doesn't translate well to short form, however, and these 27 tales, many of which date back to the '50s and the dawn of O'Brian's career, often lack narrative drive and any semblance of character development. Moreover, they frequently close with surprise endings that are apparently meant to be deep and profound but emerge instead as borderline non sequiturs. On the plus side, O'Brian's prose is often beautiful and always impeccably crafted, and his eye for detail in the wild gives a number of the stories considerable power and rural charm. The bright spots include ``The Last Pool,'' a brief yet epic account of a fisherman's struggle with an oversize salmon, and the explosive ``On the Bog,'' in which a hunting trip taken by two friends ends in unanticipated violence. Readers with a bent for British fiction that describes village life and the characteristics of the land may enjoy this collection, but others will find it not up to O'Brian's usual snuff. (Sept.)
O'Brian is the author of the famed Aubrey/Maturin novels (e.g., The Wine-Dark Sea, LJ 10/15/93), great depictions of the 18th-century seafaring world and considered among the best of historical fiction. This collection of obscure stories, written between the 1950s and 1970s, shares little with his acclaimed novels. Except that here, too, our characters-nearly always lone men-are also often journeying, albeit now to the mountains for trout fishing. There is a feeling throughout of quiet desperation, although we usually don't know why. More lost, however, are the characters themselves, who often don't know who or where they are. In the end nature often turns nasty. It's all very much like an L.L. Bean catalog gone awry. Better are the tales of marital unrest like the title story, in which a woman believes her husband to be unfaithful. Unlikely to appeal to either O'Brian's fans or to short story enthusiasts, this can be safely skipped by most libraries.-Brian Kenney, Brooklyn P.L.