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Testimonies: A Novel Paperback – July 17, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Before the epic Aubrey-Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian wrote this sinister tale of love and death set in Wales, a dark and timeless story with echoes of Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb. Joseph Pugh, sick of Oxford and of teaching, decides to take some time off to live in a wild and beautiful Welsh farm valley. There he falls physically ill and is nursed back to health by Bronwen Vaughn, the wife of a neighboring farmer. Slowly, unwillingly, Bronwen and Pugh fall in love, and while that word is never spoken between them, their story is passionate and tragic.

From Publishers Weekly

A former Oxford professor retreats to a small Welsh community only to become ill and fall in love with the farmer's wife who nurses him back to health.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393313166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393313161
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,139,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In addition to twenty volumes in the highly respected Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian's many books include "Testimonies," "The Golden Ocean," and "The Unknown Shore". O'Brian also wrote acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biographies of Charles de Gaulle. He passed away in January 2000 at the age of 85.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Patrick O'Brian is more than a writer. He's a publishing phenomenon via his superb Aubrey-Maturin series.
But TESTIMONIES was his first novel, originally published in 1952. It tells of an English professor of Welsh origins, Joseph Pugh, who abandons teaching at Oxford and moves to a cottage in Wales. There he explores the primal mountain back country and tries to understand the farming culture of his ancestral land. A lonely, middle-aged bachelor, Pugh can hardly keep house, even to basics--cooking, cleaning, maintaining his clothes. He has never known intimacy, let alone close friendship, but he falls fatally in love with the wife of his sheep-farmer neighbor Emyr Vaughan, a violent man . . . He pines for months, keeping his love sickness to himself, but when he becomes gravely ill he is taken into the Vaughan house, where he and Bronwen discover each others' feelings, with tender reserve. The denouement is poignant, inevitable, yet O'Brian handles this difficult material deftly, without over-writing. For a beginning writer in his 20s this is masterful work at the pinnacle of writing.
An acute recorder of time and place, human behavior and motivation, action and reaction, O'Brian uses words persuasively, passionately, a craftsman to the core. He captures country, culture and character with Hardy's lyrical affection, idiosyncratic ethnicity, thoughtfully observed. His meticulous work is reminiscent of the great American writers Faulkner, Steinbeck and Capote, or O'Brian's fellow Brits John Fowles and William Golding.
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By A Customer on August 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
I cannot describe how much I think of this book, even 4 years after reading it. How many books have that effect?! For me, it was one of the most vivid renderings of passion, loneliness, the relationship between men and women, and most importantly, the parallel of our emotional state to the land we occupy. The country of Wales was just as powerful as the relationship between the characters in the novel. What more can you ask for? Find a quiet spot and read this book!
1 Comment 26 of 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I can only describe the book's effect on me. I was unable to put the book down until finished, and then unable to forget the story. Don't expect a happy ending story in the vein of OBrian's Seafaring historical novels. This novel is very different.
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Format: Paperback
Having been so affected by this book, it is so pleasing to see the unanimity of readers. I finished the book last evening and have been engrossed all of today without waning; it just won't go away. What a mavelous love story where passion is never enjoined except in the spirit. What a painful tragedy that leaves one stunned and wishing himself dead. What a range of humanity. What a blessing on us all that there are writers of the power and imagination of Patrick O'Brian.
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By A Customer on August 14, 1997
Format: Paperback
This book hit me hard. Both with the sheer power of its carefully choosen words and the awesome might of its collective stories.

And there is more than one story here. There is the tale of the rugged, unforgiving land of Wales and the equally hard people it has produced; there is the parable of a tragic entanglement between two people who do everything to avoid it; and there is the epic hint of a final justice for the characters, and a final truth for us all.

I read this novel four years ago this summer and I can still vividly recall the ecstasy of emotion that I felt when I finished it.
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Format: Paperback
This is the sort of book that, when you finish the last page, compels you to sit in silence for at least half an hour, contemplating it. It doesn't allow you to pick up another book right away because you don't want to break the spell that's been cast over you, and the spell lingers for hours and days.

I already knew, from the Aubrey-Maturin books, that O'Brian was a master of characterization and of plot and action, but here, with the sailing and the battles removed, I could see even more clearly how masterful his prose is. It is hauntingly beautiful.

Like some other reviewers, I was confused and unsure what to think of the ending. There was a part of me that thought O'Brian was pulling a fast one, which I didn't like, but the other part of me was so enamored of the characters and the writing that I just didn't care. Especially when you consider that this was his first novel, you simply can't ask for better. It has echoes of Hardy, or even (if you remove all the melodramatic passion--just my opinion) of Wuthering Heights, with the harsh but beautiful landscape mirroring the harsh but beautiful people.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Though I'm a big fan of the lighter-hearted Aubrey/Maturin series, especially the first three or four installments, "Testimonies" is my hands-down favorite O'Brien. It's orders of magnitudes darker, written in the 1950s, but if O'Brien had never written anything else he'd still deserve a place of literary honor only for this novel. It's nothing like anything else I've ever read. Without being gimmicky, it uses a shifting point-of-view device that will keep you off-balance right through the last page. The narrative tension builds so slowly that you can't believe what an unbearable vise you're in by the end. He was a master of his craft even at this fairly young age.
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