The Patrick O'Brian Compendium©
The recent publication of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy means we now have two full-length biographies of the man formerly known as Patrick O'Brian1. Your webmaster has made an exhaustive study of both volumes, and distilled his thoughts into this handy comparison table.
|Point of Comparison||Dean H. King Patrick O'Brian||Nikolai Tolstoy Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist|
|Period Covered||Cradle to grave||Way before the cradle to 45 years shy of the grave (yes, it only goes to 1955 or so, and there will be other volumes)|
|Missing Periods Revealed||Pretty much everything before 1946||The entirety of the subject's life, at least to the mid-1950s when the book ends|
|Sources Used||A variety, mostly uncovered using subtle clues and investigative journalism||A whole bunch of family archives, diaries and ephemera not available to those outside the family|
|Author's Genetic Relationship to Subject||None||Was O'Brian's stepson - POB's second wife's son from her first marriage|
|Author's Emotional Relationship to Subject||Deferential, at times exasperated||Reverential, at times fawning|
|Author's Relationship to Subject While Subject Was Alive||Try though King might, Patrick O'Brian wasn't interested in speaking to Dean King in person||Cordial relationship of stepfather and stepson, communicated and visited frequently|
|Level of Healthy Editing||Good, keeps book flowing well||None whatsoever, rambling tangents the order of the day|
|Level of Excruciating Detail in Narrative||Low||VERY high|
|Opinion of Other POB Biographers||Unknown - temporal issues, i.e. there were no other POB biographers when this book was written||VERY low - much of the book is spent telling how Dean King got it wrong|
|Subtext||While a truly great writer, POB's private life was not a model of decorum||POB was a truly great writer and all his psychological machinations have been greatly overblown|
|Read it in One Sitting?||Probably not||Not unless you graduated Evelyn Wood's course summa cum laude|
|Conclusion Reached||POB was secretive and very guarded about his private life to a point just this side of clinical paranoia||POB was a brilliant, but private person|
|Density of Text||Good solid read||The occasional personal anecdote is nice, but the overwhelming number of them in this book is excessive|
|Footnotes||Almost none||There must have been a clearance sale at the British branch of the Literary Device Store on footnotes|
|Illustrations||Goodly number of black-and-white photographs, mostly contemporary though some taken in the present day||Also a goodly number of black-and-white photographs, and more of the subject himself than King used|
|Who Should Read It||Anyone interested in POB's Aubrey/Maturin body of work and who might be curious about the author's creative process||Anyone who just can't get enough of minutiae about our favorite author|
|Part of a Series?||No, though the author has spent a good portion of the past two decades illuminating POB's work for us||Yes - this is just part one|
|Currently Available at Amazon and Other US Bookstores||Yes, though Amazon lists it as out-of-stock (1/30/2005)||To be published by W.W. Norton in 2005|
|Author's Other Titles & Work||Very much a nautical guy - see the Compendium's Dean King page||Prolific writer, though NOT nautically-inclined - a sample listing may be found at Amazon.com|
1 Tolstoy's biography, while lengthy, is actually less than "full-length" in that it only chronicles POB's life through the mid-1950s.
All content on this site © 2000-2005 by Tony Townsend. All rights reserved.