The Making of the Novelist
The definitive account of the early life of the revered author of the Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin novels.
To many, Patrick O'Brian was the greatest British novelist of the Twentieth Century. The twenty volumes of the series set in the Royal Navy at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century and featuring Aubrey and Maturin have been hailed as 'the best historical novels ever written' by the New York Times. Nikolai Tolstoy was O'Brian's stepson and his acquaintanceship with him lasted forty-five years during most of O'Brian's marriage to Mary Tolstoy, Nikolai's mother. Tolstoy stayed with the couple regularly at their French home and was a frequent correspondent with the reclusive and secretive author, discovering facets of his character and creative genius that he showed to no one else. He has unique access to letters, notebooks and photographs, which will appear in this book. This volume tells the story of O'Brian's life up to his decision to move to Collioure in the South of France. His oppressed childhood, his precocious writing success, his first visit to Ireland, his sailing experiences as a young man, and the truth behind his first marriage, divorce and name change are all dealt with. This is the first part of the definitive biography of one of our literary geniuses.
“Tolstoy's book is not the horror Patrick might have feared. Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, it is a balanced, revealing, critical yet sympathetic account. Furthermore, it lives up to its subtitle.”
“one of the most gripping literary biographies of recent years”
“Tolstoy corrects errors of fact and representation and paints a much fuller picture”
“Don't be daunted by detail: Tolstoy writes with that passion to understand that characterises the best biographies.”
Books of the Year, The Spectator
“Reading Tolstoy is like reading a fine, detailed detective story; the meticulousness of his research is wholly admirable. But what is most striking is the delicate skill with which he parallels O' Brian's self and experiences, daring persuasively to link imagined events and characters to the realities of the world that the writer inhabited.... This first volume of Tolstoy's biography is brilliantly invasive, and to be treasured because it exposes and rebuts much falseness that has been written about O' Brian.”
“solidly written, painstaking and competent. Admirers of O' Brian's work will regard it as required reading.”
“Tolstoy has not written a hatchet job; his book seems truthful and psychologically insightful, showing that to understand all is not to forgive all.”