cover image The Rendezvous: And Other Stories

The Rendezvous: And Other Stories

Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $22 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03685-5

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.)