Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy; The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey by Patrick O'Brian - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

A Fierce Fantasist

Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist


Century 512pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey


HarperCollins 136pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Patrick O’Brian was determined that nobody should write his biography. On that (if on nothing else) his son, Richard Russ, takes the same view, believing 'it is a total irrelevance for the public to know what sort of man my father was. The fact that he was a damn good writer should be enough.' And so it might have been, at least for a while longer, if O'Brian had remained secretive about his private life. Instead, after decades of resolute refusal to cooperate with the publicity machine, he began to give interviews in the 1990s - very few and very select, but enough for his unauthorised first biographer, Dean King, to claim that his curiosity was justified: 'By not telling the truth to reporters and to his live audiences in the United States during visits here, O'Brian forfeited the right not to have a closer look taken.' Nikolai Tolstoy, O'Brian's stepson, says 'it was my duty to counter this by describing the Patrick I had known so well'. So he corrects King's errors and his more sensational allegations, but also confirms the regrettable image of the great writer as a far from great man.

I had written enthusiastically about the Aubrey/ Maturin books before they were famous, which may be why Patrick O'Brian allowed me to interview him in 1996. He charmed, flattered and conned me. His comments about writing were fascinating and surely truthful, and there is no reason to disbelieve his remark

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