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Friday February 29, 2008

Books in February

There is an interesting and wholly unintentional link in the main 3 books of this month in that they were all written in the 1960s.

  • Several Perceptions Angela Carter
    I think I can safely say I really didn't understand this book, and further I am not sure if I enjoyed it or not. It seemed rather removed from my own experience of life. Quite some time ago I read Shadowdance, her first novel, published 2 years before this one, and I seem to remember much the same reaction to that one. Having read the glowing reviews by authors I admire, (like Salman Rushdie and Anthony Burgess), I can only conclude I don't have the intellect to quite "get it".
    I did enjoy the actual time period, as it is a contemporary work (1968) about the flower power generation and revolves around a university town. As a Sunday Times reviewer said: it offers a picture of the Swinging Sixties without the romantic gloss of middle age.
    Rob gave me two books by her for my birthday, and I will ask him to read them too to see if he can explain what I should be seeing! I think I would like to read "Wise Children" - her last book before her untimely death in 1992, (aged 52).
  • The Clocks Agatha Christie
    Read by Robin Bailey
    Moving on to a much loved (by me) favourite. I am pretty sure I have in my time read all of Agatha Christie's output - much of it in my teens, which, according to my teachers, for ever ruined my ability to write good prose, [on the up side, I have a pretty good ear for dialogue though!]. I am sure I read this one before, as I had a good grip on the plot pretty well right away and I don't think it's because I'm any better at unravelling mysteries these days. I spent the first few chapters confusing it with the Seven Dials Mystery (and a rather bad TV adaptation) until I researched it on the web.
    Anyway, I can recommend reading it - or revisiting as I did. It contains some really nice classic AC plot devices which I much enjoyed, (people being murdered just as they are about to name the guilty party- as soon as a character says "I can't tell you now - meet me in half an hour in the tea shop", you know it's curtains - and - is it 61? or is it really 19?). Hercule Poirot features though not as a main character. He does not leave his flat in Whitehaven Mansions to solve (or advise on) the mystery, and Miss Lemon is still with him. There is a nice little diversion, while Poirot offers some interesting reflections on other crime authors and fictional detectives - he has been amusing himself in retirement, reading novels and working out the puzzles. There is criticism that the plot fizzles out after an interesting beginning, but I think that is part of the actual design; it is often an AC theme that the crime is quite simple, and you have to strip away the red herrings to leave the basic elements, money, sex, etc which are the usual triggers for murder.
    The book is written in the first person by a young "hero" who ends up with the young "heroine" (in many of ACs crime books there is a strong romantic element, and she did write pure romances under a pen name). The setting is sixties but the heroine is pure 1930s - strong, independent, a good sport - but at the same time quite flawed - a dizzy dame - needs a decent chap to take control when it all gets too much (don't we all...). AC was 73 when she wrote this and the characters have words put into their mouths which are clearly AC trying to come to terms with a modern (Swinging Sixties) world to which she can't quite relate.
    The book was read charmingly and effectively by Robin Bailey, such a familiar British stalwart that I had not registered that, sadly, he passed away in 1999.
    I have read that this novel follows the style of GK Chesterton, who was admired much by AC; I have never read the Father Brown stories but now feel I should.
  • Murder in Mind P D James
    This book was also written in 1963, and I would like to say "couldn't be more different" - but hey, it's a detective story... I had recently seen reruns of the TV adaptation of this book - they are fairly faithful to the books, and Roy Marsden is perfect as Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but... they are very dated. I was surprised that this one was 1995 - I thought they were all made in the 1980s. Also these adaptations come from the days when books were adapted into 7 part series, and no-one attempted to squeeze masterpieces like Ian Rankin's Rebus books into a mere hour and a half. I think the problem with PD James books is that there is a lot of psychology in them, which is hard to portray, except by a lot of ponderous pauses - and these are frankly dull on a TV cop show, especially when they go on for so many episodes.
    So - I wondered what the book was like.
    James is 30 years younger than AC so was in her prime when she wrote this. Like the previous novel, it follows the author's typical formula, being set in an "enclosed" environment, (compare: quasi religious orders, convalescent or care homes, retreats, museums, legal chambers, organisations always privately supported by trusts - settings on islands, towers, lighthouses etc etc) and being in this case, a locked room mystery - a defined parameter from the start - so we're all clear about the suspects. Again, in the end, the answer all comes down to money - the simple explanation.
    It may not be apparent from the above, but I really enjoy her books; I think the style is slow (turgid probably too strong). However, while maintaining that nice policeman's pace, solid plodding but relentless, she still manages to have quite a gripping end (will they make it in time or not?) - the policemen end up stuck in a traffic jam, which seems appropriate.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate M C Beaton
    Another pleasing fantasy excursion into the world of the 50 year old single woman.
    Maybe I could open a detective agency...

Posted by Christina at 11:41 AM. Category: Books of the Month