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review 2019-10-16 23:28
The Moonstone / Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night the priceless stone is stolen again and when Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel’s household is above suspicion. Hailed by T. S. Eliot as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’, The Moonstone is a marvellously taut and intricate tale of mystery, in which facts and memory can prove treacherous and not everyone is as they first appear.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Gothic square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

Well, finally, I have managed to read this Wilkie Collins classic, and I’m glad that I did. It is remarkable for the way it got detective fiction started. I could certainly see the roots of the genre in it and it reminded me strongly of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four. Sergeant Cuff, with his eye for detail and absorption in rose cultivation, seems like a clear predecessor of Sherlock Holmes, with his predilection for violin playing and smelly chemistry experiments. Both novels result from treasures stolen from the Indian subcontinent and Indian people appear in England in both cases to retrieve the ill-gotten valuables. Also appreciated was one of the earliest crime scene re-enactments in literature.

The Moonstone doesn’t rush it’s way to the finish line. Instead, it meanders and circles a bit, as the literature of the time period does. I thought that Collins must have had great fun writing the first two narrators--both Gabriel Betteredge and Drusilla Clack are entertaining for their eccentricities. Both have placed their faith in a particular book: Gabriel relies on Robinson Crusoe, while Drusilla trusts more to the Bible, or rather interpretations thereof by her favourite religious people. Each of them regards people who don’t pay attention to their book as heathens. Probably most of us have encountered a Drusilla at some point or may even count them as family members--we hope we see them before they see us, allowing us time to hide or flee!

Collins certainly reveals his excellent understanding of people with his characters. I found his depiction of Godfrey Ablewhite especially interesting, as it related to Collins’ own personal life. Godfrey proposes to Miss Rachel Verinder, but seems to be rather easily made to back away from their engagement, though it makes his father apoplectic. We learn later that he has been keeping a woman in grand style and had he succeeded in marrying Rachel, this woman would have been sure to ruin his reputation! Perhaps this is why Collins maintained two households without ever marrying either woman--they could tolerate being equal, but his marrying one would have automatically made the unmarried woman into the Other Woman, with the concomitant social censure.

Collins certainly set a pattern in literature with valuable gems being the centre pieces of mysterious goings on. I think even of modern urban fantasy such as Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews with it’s pillaged Indian crown, featuring a beautiful stone, which is used for nefarious purposes and eventually returned to India where it belongs, with the knowledge that nothing good comes from stealing from other cultures.

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review 2019-09-26 01:29
Beloved / Toni Morrison
Beloved - Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Magical Realism square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

 

Wow.  Toni Morrison writes gorgeously about an ugly reality.  If her writing was any less majestic, it would be difficult to make it to the end of the book.  The situations she describes are searing in their intensity. As it was, I found I had to take my time.  Read a chapter, then rest and reflect. Read another chapter. Repeat. This wasn’t a book that I could hurry through.

 

It is an unflinching look at slavery and freedom.  An examination of what exactly freedom means and doesn’t mean.  It is horrifying and despairing and hopeful. Beloved haunts this family as slavery haunts our society.

 

I recommend it to everyone.  It is a powerful book and well worth your time.  Take your time and really feel it. Another good book on the same subject is Kindred by Octavia Butler.  Very different but also worthwhile.

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review 2019-09-24 19:30
Cover Her Face / P.D. James
Cover Her Face - P.D. James

Headstrong and beautiful, the young housemaid Sally Jupp is put rudely in her place, strangled in her bed behind a bolted door. Coolly brilliant policeman Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard must find her killer among a houseful of suspects, most of whom had very good reason to wish her ill.

 

 

I read this book to fill the International Woman of Mystery square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

This is my first foray into P.D. James’ mystery writing and I was pleasantly impressed. I can certainly see a relationship to the works of Agatha Christie--but I guess it is virtually impossible to write in this genre without paying homage to both her and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. What James does so well is to make me feel like I truly know the people that she is writing about. They aren’t just cardboard cut-outs, they are fully realized people with their own motivations and prejudices. They are part of their community, well known and involved.

What she also captures so well, in my opinion, is the way that society was changing in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Class was becoming less meaningful and less respected. Sexual mores were already shifting and loosening. Charity from upper class people was less valued and more resented.

In Dalgleish himself, I see the roots of another favourite detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, written by Louise Penny. They are both quiet, introspective, intellectual men who have good taste and good sense. I didn’t get to know Adam Dalgliesh as well as I would like to in this first book, but I will certainly go on to the next book to see if I can remedy that situation.

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review 2019-04-15 16:33
Excellent Women / Barbara Pym
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

I felt that I was now old enough to become fussy and spinsterish if I wanted to.


Amen, sister Mildred! I felt so much kinship to this single woman, obviously competent and to whom others turn when they want something done and don’t want to do it themselves. At a tourist site, someone turns to Mildred to ask directions and says, “I hope you didn’t mind me asking, but you looked as if you would know the way.” I’ve had the same thing happen to me frequently. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, despite the fact that I’m often wondering about my own competence! (One of my coworkers once told me that he figured the world was split into patients and nurses and that I would be a head-nurse. I’m still wondering if this was a compliment or an insult.)

It’s no secret that there are tasks that tend to get heaped on single women. It is assumed that because you don’t have a husband or children, you have oodles of spare time in which to do things for others. So you can be the one to do the emotional labour of keeping up friendships or keeping in touch with family. This can work for you or against you. You can use it to your advantage as Mildred does:

”I began piling cups and saucers on to a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?”


She can find solitude at the kitchen sink because, as she told us earlier, “I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.” Hence the church-going men who hang around the jumble sales and drink tea, but, like the drones they are, do very little else.

It has always surprised me how much society pushes us toward romantic relationships. Like Mildred, I’m just fine with my single status—I can certainly see the married women around me struggling with challenges that I don’t have to face. It may be a liability someday when I need an advocate when I’m in assisted living, for example, but having a spouse or children doesn’t guarantee that they will show up to do this task. I had to laugh when one relative spent ages agonizing to me about whether to get divorced and then turned around and worried about whether I would get married!

I am just fine being numbered among the excellent women.

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text 2019-04-12 05:19
Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 256 pages.
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

 

Barbara Pym, why have I never read any of your work until recently?  What a pleasure!

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