'PASS THE WORD for Captain Aubrey, pass the word for Captain Aubrey,' cried a sequence of voices, at first dim and muffled far aft on the flagship's maindeck, then growing louder and more distinct as the call wafted up to the quarterdeck and so along the gangway to the forecastle, where Captain Aubrey stood by the starboard thirty-two-pounder carronade contemplating the Emperor of Morocco's purple galley as it lay off Jumper's Bastion with the vast grey and tawny Rock of Gibraltar soaring behind it, while Mr Blake, once a puny member of his midshipman's berth but now a tall, stout lieutenant almost as massive as his former captain, explained the new carriage he had invented, a carriage that should enable carronades to fire twice as fast, with no fear of oversetting, twice as far, and with perfect accuracy, thus virtually putting an end to war.

The paragraph above is the opening sentence of The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian. A whopper of an opening line. At a few other points in the book, I notice sentences as excruciatingly long as the first one, and they all seem to have a hook at the end. You open a book about ships at war and the first sentence practically exhausts you, then ends with "virtually putting an end to war."

It leaves me hopeful. If he can get away with such a long opening sentence in a book that becomes a national bestseller and major motion picture, there's hope for other people to make seemingly unforgivable transgressions against the rules of writing and survive.

(Now a major widescreen collector's edition dvd and major out-of-stock sailing game.)


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