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review 2017-11-18 18:59
Where we were, and where we still are
Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media - Susan J. Douglas

This is another of those 10-star books.

 

My original review, on the transfer from GR, is here.  But it's not much.

 

When I went back to college in August of 1998, this was one of the texts for one of my classes.  According to the syllabus, we were assigned to read a couple of chapters.  Something about the book grabbed my attention, however, and I began to read it from the beginning.

 

Maybe it was the picture on the cover.  I remembered going to see the movie Where the Boys Are and I remembered being confused by it at the time.  But as soon as I started reading Susan J. Douglas's book, I was hooked.  I read almost non-stop.

 

 

Douglas is a bit younger than I, just as Hillary Rodham is a bit older.  We all grew up in that same era, however, and this was our reality.

 

I know where I was in, say, 1964, and I still have the diaries written in spiral notebooks to back me up.  I was never a cheerleader, and couldn't afford the latest fashions, but I absolutely did sleep on my face when my hair was in rollers.

 

My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- older than I didn't go through the maelstrom we boomers did.  Virtually all of them were married and raising children by the time The Sixties hit.  They had come of age before the explosion of television, of rock 'n' roll, of The Pill. 

 

My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- younger than I reaped the benefits of the maelstrom.  They came of age when birth control was available and acceptable, when the idea of having a career instead of a family was not shocking.

 

But there is still something somehow unique about those of us born in that relatively narrow window of (roughly) 1946 to 1956, and Susan J. Douglas captures it perfectly.

 

We were the first generation raised on television, and it had a profound effect on us.  Not just the comedy shows like I Love Lucy (which I personally hated because I thought Lucy was so fucking stupid) that seemed to remain a hallmark of the so-called Golden Age, but the news shows that brought events into the living room, everything from Hollywood fires to political campaigns to The War.  Television also gave us commercials that made us much more consumerist than adults who had read advertisements in newspapers and magazines.  Sponsors of children's shows could target us so much younger, and for so many more years.

 

I wrote in my earlier review that I needed then to reread the book.  I've reread parts of it many times over the years, and maybe a full reread is in order.  Then again, I actually lived through those times.  I still have the diaries, though there are few extant photos of the teen-aged me.  (And yes, the diarist was obsessed with boys and sex.)

 

Maybe that's why I tend to be a little less of an absolutist when it comes to girls and women and boys and men and sex.  Oh, not about whether no means no.  It does, and that is an absolute, even if it wasn't always taken that way.  Nor do I deny that there is such a thing as rape culture; there is, and it isn't yet going away.  But the ambiguities and double standards that girls grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s were the same ambiguities and double standards that boys grew up with then and which still pervade our culture to this day.

 

We all got mixed messages.  Some of us tried to sort them out.  But none of us escaped the culture that was all around us, and few of us were ever given the tools to analyze it, deconstruct it, resist it.  Is it worse today?  Probably.  And it's not going to get better if we don't understand how we got where we are today.  This book is a good starting point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-27 01:07
An all-day rant/blather on writing, reading, reviewing, etc., probably TL/DR but anyway. . . .
To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction - Joanna Russ

The past two days laid up with back spasms have given me the opportunity to cogitate at length on a lot of issues.

 

Including omens, which I don't believe in.  (Shut up, Shakespeare!  No one believes that bullshit about protesting too much any more.)

 

When I was writing up my blog post about the Kindle Unlimited scammers yesterday, I referenced an old review of mine.  In the process of looking up that review, I came across another old post, this one about back spasms that attacked right after last year's first art show of the season.  Without going through diary entries and more old blog posts, I'm still pretty sure of the cause of the back spasms: strained muscles from lifting the canopy in and out of my car.

 

The first show of the season is always the worst, because it comes after a summer during which physical activity is severely curtailed by the heat.  I can't be outside on the rock saw or in the studio working on rocks and other projects because it is simply too hot.  So I stay in the house and don't get nearly as much exercise as I should.  Hence the first show - which is outdoors and requires the canopy - is a shock to all those lazy muscles that haven't been exercised properly for six months.  Even though I try to spread out the physical labor by loading the car during the week before the show and unloading it (usually) over a few days afterward, the effect of unloading and setting up, then tearing down and reloading the car within the space of eight hours for a one-day show is way too much for me to handle alone without the risk of inevitable back muscle injury.

 

Something has to give.

 

I don't have another outdoor show until early December, and I'm going to try to a.) get some more exercise to stretch and strengthen those muscles; and b.) enlist some assistance even if only in the loading and unloading of the damn canopy.

 

I'm not, after all, getting any younger.  Or any taller.  Height equals leverage, and I ain't got much.

 

 

I do anywhere from eight to eleven shows per season, usually four between October and early December, the rest late January through the first of April.  Five of them are outdoors and require the canopy; I declined to even apply for another outdoor show that involves more physical effort than the others, because it simply wasn't worth it.

 

Financially I do reasonably well at these shows, bringing in the supplemental income that means the difference between barely subsisting and actually having something of a life. 

 

And that's where a good part of the cogitating came in:  If not the shows, then what?

 

I could conceivably skip the outdoor shows and eliminate the issues with the canopy, but two of those events are among my most successful.  So I have to take that into consideration.

 

Enlisting at least some assistance could also alleviate as much as half the risk of injury, or perhaps even more.  This is a topic for dinner conversation, so we'll see.

 

 

 

I've loved rocks since I was a toddler.  The bottom step on my grandparents' back porch was concrete, and I remember sitting on that step and being fascinated by all the little stones revealed where the cement had worn away a little bit.  My mother once told me, rather vehemently, that I must be mistaken because she had grown up in that house and the porch was all wood with no concrete steps, but alas, photographic evidence bore out my claims.

 

 The penciled notation on the back of the snapshot reads "11 mos." and that means it was taken September 1949.  That's my grandmother Mom Helene behind me, and behind her is the concrete step.  (My dad is at the far right.)

 

So my fascination with rocks is almost as old as I am, literally.

 

Another photo, perhaps taken the same day, shows me at the fish pond my grandfather had built in the back yard . . . in the middle of his rock garden.  Pop and I had a lot of fun together in that yard.

 

The house is still there; so is the fish pond.

 

(Photo courtesy Redfin real estate site.)

 

I love my rocks.  I love playing with them, cutting them to see what surprises lie inside, turning them into gems and making jewelry out of them.  I'm not giving up my rocks!

 

But neither can I continue to risk the kind of injury I've been dealing with the past roughly two weeks and especially the past two days.

 

Up until the past two days, however, I was unaware of some other challenges I face regarding some alternatives.

 

Now, I know you're wondering -- if you've been foolish enough to read this far -- what all this nonsense has to do with Joanna Russ and To Write Like a Woman.  I'm getting there.

 

The end of my first writing career in 1995 was followed by my third (or fourth?) college career in 1998, which was in fact prompted by my discovery of another book about women and writing titled The Writing or the Sex, or why you don't have to read women's writing to know it's no good by Dale Spender.  Though Dr. Spender had written numerous books on women and writing and feminism, I was surprised to learn that most -- most -- of my women's studies professors at Arizona State University - West had never heard of her.  Hmmmmm. . . . .

 

But there were many authors I had never heard of, and to whom I was introduced over the two years of my undergraduate study and three years in the MAIS program at ASU-West.  One of those authors was Joanna Russ.

 

I learned of Russ when I was working on my undergrad honors thesis about romance novels.  One of my professors remembered a humorous article she had read years before, something about gothic romances and husbands killing their wives.  Research turned up Russ's article "Someone's trying to kill me and I think it's my husband," published in The Journal of Popular Culture in Spring 1973.

 

I had no way of knowing how far in advance of the "bodice ripper" boom that began in 1972 Russ had written the essay.  I only knew that she was absolutely spot on with her observations.  I obtained an authorized photocopy of the article for my research files.

 

I also bought Russ's book What are we fighting for? as well as Susan Koppelman Cornillon's Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, in part because it contained another of Russ's essays, "What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can't Write."  Both of those books, as well as several by Dale Spender, became part of that "personal canon" I started compiling here on BookLikes several months ago.

 

When the fiction writing bug bit me in the spring of 2016 and infected me enough that I actually finished The Looking-Glass Portrait (begun in 1994 or thereabouts) and then published it via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, I had no real expectations of any kind of success with it.  It ended up shocking the living hell out of me by making some money.  Not big bunches, but frankly more than most of my print titles ever earned back in the 80s and 90s.  Almost immediately after finishing LGP, I began work on another contemporary gothic tale -- not so much with a menacing husband/lover as with hints of ghostly doings and dark family secrets -- and was having great fun with it and making steady progress. 

 

 

 

And then it stalled.

 

What stopped me?  Simple answer:  Art show season.

 

Oh, there were other reasons, too nebulous and complex to go into here for the sake of this particular musing, but the main reason was that I had to devote a great deal of energy and time and creative effort to my other artistic product lines, if you will, and there wasn't time for the writing.

 

Writing novels, unfortunately, does not provide immediate return on investment.  Or rather, the investment is very long, though in fact the return (thanks to digital self-publishing) can be fairly quick.  The return on an art show is almost instantaneous.

 

Well, it is if the show is successful.  And not all of them are.

 

But they were successful enough that in the short term, they provided that necessary supplemental income the longer term investment in writing just couldn't.  When the beginning of 2017 slapped me upside the head with several very large and very unexpected cash expenditures, I had to opt for the rocks and jewelry and other artsy-fartsy stuff that generated quick revenue.

 

The writing would have to wait.

 

And mostly it did.  Once summer arrived and shows were over and the outdoor temperatures relegated me to the house and the air conditioning, I tried to pick up where I had left off with Forgotten Magic.  Again, I made slow, but steady, progress.  The book and characters began to move in a slightly different direction that suggested this single story might evolve into a threesome -- no, not that kind! -- but it was going to take a lot more work.  And a lot more time.

 

In the interim, of course, there was the artsy-fartsy stuff.  To a certain extent, it was a kind of catch-22.  But the bills have to be paid, y'know?

 

The writing, of course, was going to take something else, something above and beyond, something I hate and don't have the financial resources for: Promotion.

 

My original writing career in the days when "traditional" publishing was all there was meant that the writer relied mostly on the publisher to get the word out and promote the book.  Cover art and blurbs were about all we romance writers had to stimulate word of mouth and get our books talked about.  In the early 1980s, Romantic Times came along, and Romance Writers of America, and from those two main sources came the push to promote, promote, promote.  Bookmarks and ads and all the other bullshit that takes money and/or makes my stomach turn.

 

So when I began reissuing my print titles via KDP, I didn't do promo.  I couldn't afford the paid stuff -- ads and such -- and I hated doing the rest of it.  Oh, I did my little blog and I posted a few times on Goodreads (once I found it) but I just can't shake my personal loathing for PR.  I still rely on the "if you write a good book, people will read it and talk about it," even though I know that's never really been true.  I did all right with the reissues, though not spectacularly, but I was never going to get rich from them.

 

The Looking-Glass Portrait was therefore a huge surprise.  I did no promo for it, took out no ads, sent out no ARCs, contacted no reviewers.  I think I posted a couple things here on BookLikes and a few short things on Facebook, but that was it.  Then I sat back and waited. 

 

I don't have a separate Facebook business page for either my arts & crafts stuff or my writing.  To be honest, I don't know how to do Facebook pages and I'm so afraid of doing it wrong and getting kicked off that I don't even try.  Don't even mention Instagram.

 

But . . . .  .  .  .   .   .   .    .    .       .

 

Then came The Secrets of White Apple Tree Farm. 

 

 

 

Suddenly I was writing three, four, six thousand words a day.  The story was writing itself, it knew where it was going even if I didn't. 

 

Halloween Bingo was less a distraction than a motivator.  The more I read of gothics and horror and ghost stories, the more I wanted to write.  The more I did write.

 

Production cut back, of course, as art show season approached.  I had to get inventory ready.  I had to clean the tables that had been sitting on the porch since last April.  I had to load the car.  But I still managed to write, even if it was only a few hundred words a night scribbled in a spare spiral notebook after I'd gone to bed.  There were things I wanted to say with this book, not just entertain.

 

What are we fighting for, anyway?

 

I've always believed there is untapped power in popular fiction.  Yes, even in romance novels.

 

 

 

Then came the first show of the season.  Financially, a success.  Physically, a disaster.  A catastrophe.  And a warning of what to expect in the future.

 

Even now, as I've started to recover today, the pain isn't gone.  Writing this has been enough of a strain -- along with fixing a sandwich for lunch and washing a few dishes -- that the twinges are becoming more painful and reminding me that I'm pushing it too far.

 

But the revelations of yesterday, of learning how Amazon allows writers to be screwed over, and how the only path to writing success seems to be promotion, promotion, PROMOTION, discourage me.  Indeed, they frighten me.

 

No, that's not right either.

 

They anger me.

 

David Gaughran preaches co-operation, but he practices competition.  Phoenix Sullivan, of that ghastly "romance" Spoil of War, practices high level, high tech promotion.  She has the extensive backlist of a top tier romance novelist to support her efforts, in terms of both finances and quality/visibility of product.  So where's the absence of competition?

 

Anne Rice and her alter ego Anne R. Allen preach kindness to authors, but only at the expense of honesty to readers.  They seem to have forgotten that some of the stuff being published is just plain terrible.  Is it kind to readers not to warn them when their hard-earned money is at stake, let alone their time?

 

Gaughran -- and Sullivan -- lament Amazon's favoritism toward readers at the expense of writers, but they seem to forget that Amazon's failure to protect readers from scams is just as bad as allowing scammers to scam writers.  It's all about what benefits Amazon, and screw the rest of us, writers and readers alike.

 

The co-operation needs to be not (just) amongst writers but between writers and readers.

 

If it's not about providing quality product, then it's not about co-operation; it's about competition.

 

If it's just about who gets the highest ranking on Amazon or who gets the most five-star reviews on Goodreads, then it's not about quality of product and reader satisfaction.  If it's about who buys the most ads on FreeBooksy or sends out the most ARCs via NetGalley or assembles the biggest street team -- whatever that is -- then it's not about writing a good book, it's about promoting a commodity of dubious quality.

 

I want to write.  I want to write good books that people will enjoy and that might subtly teach them something, too.  Not preachy like that stupid Terror in Tower Grove, but with a few laughs, a few chills, a few ohs and aaahs and aaawwwwws.

 

I won't become famous and I won't have an extensive backlist and I won't be invited to guest post on big book promoting blogs, but that's not the name of the game to me.

 

My back felt pretty good last night, so I crawled in bed and took To Write Like a Woman with me.  I skimmed through the table of contents, and skipped over the essay on gothics to the last entry in the book (before the index):  A Letter to Susan Koppelman.

 

It's dated 1984.  It mentions (feminist writer) Helene Cixous, about whom I had never heard before I entered the Women's Studies program at ASU-West in 1998.  It mentions Dale Spender, about whom my Women's Studies professors had never heard in 2000.

 

I started to cry.  Not from the pain of the back spasms, but from the anger that after 33 years the issue still of women's writing remains almost untouched.

 

And then came the real anger, because it wasn't just mine.  It was Joanna Russ's, too.

 

 

Part of the letter is available on Google Books here. The intro Russ supplies is amusing for its reference to Ursula K. Le Guin's response to a critic.  But the important part of this 1984 letter was about the anger.  That part of the letter isn't in the Google Books selection, but there's a reference to it here:

 

Russ's writing is characterized by anger interspersed with humor and irony. James Tiptree Jr, in a letter to her, wrote, "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it? It smells and smoulders like a volcano buried so long and deadly it is just beginning to wonder if it can explode."[6] In a letter to Susan Koppelman, Russ asks of a young feminist critic "where is her anger?" and adds "I think from now on, I will not trust anyone who isn't angry."[13]

 

So, I am angry.  I have been angry before, but I have not had the kind of outlet for it that I have -- or at least think I have -- now.

 

Gaughran and Sullivan, Rice and Allen, and all the rest have a small bit of it right, but they have missed the essence by a mile.  The pact, the contract, the cooperation must be between the writer and the reader.  Not the writer and other writers. Not the reviewers and the writers.  Not the ARC suppliers and the advertising websites and the bloggers and the bundlers and the scammers.  It has to be the sacred bond between writer and reader.

 

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-17 20:15
Just ordered this. A book I absolutely MUST have
To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction - Joanna Russ

The collection contains her wonderful essay on gothic romances, "Someone is trying to kill me and I think it's my husband."

 

I have a couple of her other non-fiction books, but oddly have never read any of her fiction.  I suppose that's another gap in my reading experience I need to fill!

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review 2017-10-11 20:38
What's real . . . and what isn't . . . and I'm not just talking about rape
Real Rape - Susan Estrich

Disclosure:  I make no apologies for being a radical feminist.  Deal with it.  I hold a BA degree from Arizona State University West in women's studies.  Deal with it.  I earned my master's degree in sociology and interdisciplinary studies from ASU-West in 2003.  Deal with it.

 

Too often, the word "rape" is taken to mean forcible sexual assault by a stranger.  Far more often the act is something very different, and is therefore just assumed to be not rape at all.

 

One of the undergrad classes I took was titled "Women, Crime, and Justice."  Our instructor was Dr. Marie Griffin, an attractive, petite blonde in her mid 30s.  About half the students in the class were male police and/or parole officers working toward either Administration of Justice degrees or planning to go on to law school.  Only about one-fourth the students were female.

 

The course covered various aspects of women and the American justice system - women as police officers and judges, women as lawyers,  women as criminals and victims of crime.

 

At the end of the semester, we had to give the usual presentations, and I chose to do mine on rape:  No means no, and what part of No don't you get?  Because rape is more than just physical force -- as we've seen far too graphically in the latest revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein. 

 

Women are threatened into "consenting" to sexual activity, and many people think that this means it's not rape.  Threats can involve the threat of physical harm, threats of financial harm such as loss of job or income, threats to children or pets or other loved ones, threats of self-harm.  These threats do not have to be explicitly articulated; they can be implied, especially by circumstances.

 

After I had given my presentation, one of the police officer students took issue with some of the things I had said.  His argument went something like this:

 

"So, okay.  If I take a woman out, like to dinner and a show, and I spend a couple hundred bucks on her, don't I have the right to expect something in return?"

 

The gasp from the rest of the class was clearly audible.

 

This was in the year 2000.  The guy was a police officer.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-01 20:21
If I could give ten stars . . . . . . .

Lots of spoilers ahead.  

 

 

I read the whole book crumbling cover to crumbling cover, then read back through various parts of it again last night and this morning.  I made copious notes.

 

Tey's writing style is not as spare as, say, Hemingway's.  I can't stand Hemingway.  But she writes very cleanly.  There are no excursions into lavish description or extensive backstory, except when the backstory is perfectly relevant.  She jumps point of view frequently, and I wonder if having read this book so often during my formative years as a writer is what made me comfortable with what would come to be known as head-hopping.

 

An adult reader, and especially someone who has read a lot of mysteries, would probably figure out fairly early on that

Simon Ashby murdered his older twin brother Patrick.

(spoiler show)

Tey plants plenty of clues.  At age 13, the same age at which the Ashby children lost their parents and Patrick supposedly committed suicide, I didn't pick up on those clues.  The resolution was as much a surprise to me as the ending to any Nancy Drew mystery.

 

As an adult who already knew the ending, however, I was able to enjoy over and over the discovery of the clues, because there are so many of them that each reading revealed more.  And I realised how perfectly written it was, how perfect each word was.

 

Among the very first is the title itself.  Brat Farrar.

 

This is not, as it might seem, primarily the mystery of what happened (past tense) to Patrick Ashby.  It's about what happens (present tense) to Brat Farrar.  It's about who he is, what he does, why he does what he does, what he will do in any given situation and why.

 

The opening scene of luncheon at the Ashby house sets the stage for this character examination.  The younger twins, Jane and Ruth, are eating lunch.  They are perhaps a bit precocious for nine-going-on-ten, but I'm not familiar enough with precocious nine-going-on-ten-year-olds to judge. 

 

First line of the book:

 

"Aunt Bee," said Jane, breathing heavily into her soup, "was Noah a cleverer back-room boy than Ulysses or was Ulysses a cleverer back-room boy than Noah?"

 

It seems innocuous enough, hardly menacing or even presaging mystery.  Jane innocently wonders whether Noah was better at managing the invisible, behind-the-scenes details needed to save all the life-forms from drowning in the Flood, or Ulysses had a firmer grasp on the minutiae of bringing his men home safely from the foreign war and defeating all the monsters the gods have set against him.

 

Of course it serves to establish Jane's personality, even though the reader doesn't know from that single line that Jane is only nine-going-on-ten and not the main character, and in another book that might have been sufficient.

 

Once you've read the whole book, however, you recognize that this is instant foreshadowing of the conflict between Brat and his antagonist as well as the nature of the perspective each of them brings to that conflict.  Is Brat going to be Noah, or Ulysses?  Or both?

 

The reader doesn't actually meet the character Brat Farrar until page 15, when he is sitting in a restaurant in London with actor Alec Loding, who was born Alec Ledingham.  The Ledinghams owned the much larger estate, Clare Park, neighboring the Ashbys' country home Latchetts.  Alec at first mistakes Brat for Simon Ashby, the heir to Latchetts.  The resemblance is so striking that Loding concocts a plan to coach the stranger into posing as the elder twin, Patrick, whose presumed death by suicide eight years prior left the inheritance to Simon.

 

When he proposes the scheme to the young man he now knows is Brat Farrar, Brat rejects the idea.  He's not a criminal, and this plot is clearly criminal.  But on page 19, after Brat has returned to his shabby lodgings . . .

 

The boy lay on his bed in the dark, fully dressed, and stared at the ceiling.

 

There were no street lamps outside to illuminate this back room under the slates; but the faint haze of light that hangs over London at night, emanation from a million arc and gas-lights and paraffin lamps shone ghost-like on the ceiling so that its cracks and stains showed like a world map.

 

The boy was looking at a world map too, but it was not on the ceiling.  He was examining his odyssey; conducting a private inventory.

 

 'Twas enough to give me goosebumps.  The boy in the back room.  The odyssey.  But Tey wasn't done with this tasty morsel. 

 

Bee Ashby meets with Brat at his London lodgings, and the "back room" phrase pops up again.  And again.  If the terms aren't used to describe the accommodations given to Brat at Latchetts, where he is put up in the old night nursery Patrick and Simon once shared, at least there is an implication that again, this is a back room, one that doesn't get the rising sun in the morning.

 

The theme of back rooms arises again toward the end of the book, and again it brought delightful goosebumps.

 

The Ashbys and their horses will be competing at the annual Bures Agricultural Show, which takes place in the town some 40 miles from Latchetts.  They'll stay overnight at the Chequers, the inn/hotel where Ashbys have stayed for generations.  And they have always occupied the same rooms, Numbers 17, 18, and 19.  From page 150 . . .

 

It would have been possible long ago for the Ashbys on their annual visit to have some of the finer bedrooms at the Chequers, but no such idea ever crossed an Ashby mind.  The difference between Number 3 and Number 17 was not that one was a fine room with a pleasant outlook and good furniture and the other a back room looking on to the roof of the assembly room, but that one wasn't "their" room and the other was.

 

 Even the name of the hotel is one of the fine, perfect details. 

 

On page 18, Loding refers to the proposition as a gamble, and Brat counters with pointing out that the gamble is really Loding's.  "You're offering me the sweetest chance for a double-cross that I ever heard of."  Alec responds ". . . No one with your Ashby looks could be a double-crosser.  The Ashbys are monsters of rectitude."  He goes further on the following page:

 

"Tell me," he said as they stopped at the entrance to the Underground, "do you play cards?"

 

"Not with strangers," said the young man pleasantly.

 

"I just wondered.  I had never met the perfect poker face until now, and I should be sorry if it was being wasted on some nonconformist abstainer."

 

Loding makes another comment on Brat's poker face on page 33, after Brat has met with the Ashby family solicitors.  (Just the name of the firm is another of Tey's precious details: Cosset, Thring and Noble:  Cosset meaning to care for indulgently, Thring meaning to squeeze or press or crowd, and Noble.) 

 

Gambling makes an appearance again on page 80.

 

What had been a dice game for dangerous stakes had become a mere taking candy from a baby.  Now that Simon was his opponent, the thing was once more a contest.

 

Not dice, thought Brat, considering himself in the mirror.  Chequers rather.  A matter of cautious moves, of anticipating attack, of blocking an unforeseen thrust.  Yes; chequers.

 

. . . The pieces were laid out on the board and they faced each other across it.

 

 

But Brat's assessment of the game he's playing with Simon quickly changes.  Just a few paragraphs later, on page 81:

 

Not chequers, thought Brat.  No, not chequers.  Poker.

 

The book is loaded with just such sweet details.  Patrick's little toy horse, to whom Alec Loding gave the sarcastic name "Travesty, by Irish Peasant out of Bog Oak," was a typical tourist souvenir made from ancient Irish wood.  But that sarcasm, and perhaps some of the animosity, comes back as an echo in the name of Simon's horse, Timber.  Timber is the real travesty, and Brat's identification of the horse with his master -- vain, conceited, and lethal -- completes the link.

 

What delighted me the most on this latest reading was the way Tey developed the relationship between Brat and the "real" Patrick Ashby.

 

None of those who were adults at the time of Patrick's suicide -- Aunt Bee, Mr. Sandal of Cosset, Thring and Noble, the rector George Peck (who also happens to be Alec Loding's brother-in-law) -- have been able to reconcile Patrick's suicide with the boy they remember him to be: sensitive, caring, kind, thoughtful.  But neither were they able to reconcile that Patrick with the one Brat purports to be, a Patrick who was so overwhelmed by his parents' death and his inheritance of Latchetts that he simply ran away.

 

They all saw what they expected to see.  There's a marvelous conversation between Bee and George Peck about this, and it sets the stage for so much that comes later.

 

But it's Brat, who has no expectations, who is therefore able to see that if the Patrick Ashby everyone knew was incapable of suicide, and if the Patrick Ashby who everyone knew would never have run away and never written to anyone to let them know he was all right, then something else must have happened to him.  And that something else can only have been murder.

 

The relationship with Patrick has its roots in the character of Brat Farrar.

 

He lay on the bed and thought about it.  This sudden identification in an unbelonging life.  He had a great desire to see this twin of his; this Ashby boy.  Ashby.  It was a nice name:  a good English name.  He would like to see the place too:  this Latchetts, where his twin had grown up in belonging quiet while he had bucketed round the world all the way from the orphanage to that moment in a London street, belonging nowhere.

 

The orphanage.  It was no fault of the orphanage that he had not belonged. (pp. 20-21)

Later . . .

 

As he hung his jacket over the back of the chair he thought about that young Ashby who had bowed out.  With everything in the world to live for he had gone and thrown himself off a cliff.  It didn't make sense.  Did parents matter all that much?  (p. 28)

 

How much of Brat's motivation to take Loding up on his offer came from the lure of the horses?  How much from his sense of wanting to belong?  How much from curiosity about or connection to Patrick Ashby?  The questioning begins early, on page 35.

 

But it was not Simon who held his interest; it was the child who had not lived to grow up; the boy whose place he was going to take.  He had an odd feeling of identity with Patrick.

 

Even he himself noticed this, and found it strange.  He should have been filled with guilt when he considered Patrick.  But his only emotion was one of partisanship; almost of alliance.

 

 This feeling grows stronger after Brat is accepted as the returned Patrick, and it's reinforced by this growing sense of belonging.  On page 105,

 

This morning he had got up and dressed in that back room under the slates, with the crowding chimney-pots beyond the window.  And here he was, going to sleep in Latchetts, with the sweet cold smell of the down blowing in on the damp air from the window.

 

As sleep drew him under he had an odd feeling of reassurance.  A feeling that Pat Ashby didn't mind his being there; that he was on the contrary pleased about it all.

The relationship deepens as does Brat's understanding of the situation he has found himself in.

 

Before lunch was over the first of the visitors arrived; and the steady stream went on, from after-luncheon coffee, through tea, to six o'clock drinks.  They had all come to inspect Brat, but he noticed that those who had known Patrick Ashby came with genuine pleasure in welcoming him back.  Each of them had some small memory of him to recount, and all of them had kept the memory green because they had liked Pat Ashby and grieved for him.  And Brat caught himself being gratified in an absurd and proprietorial way, as if some protégé of his own was being praised.  The light that had been shed on Simon this morning made him more than ever Patrick's champion.  It was all wrong that Latchetts should have been Simon's all those years.  It was Patrick's inheritance and it was all wrong that Patrick should not be here to inherit it.  Patrick was all right.  Patrick would not have gone sick with rage because his best girl had a better horse than he had.  Patrick was all right. (p. 115)

 

There's a temptation to read this as Brat's rationalization for his actions, a justification for anything he might do in the future.  If Patrick Ashby was "all right" and Brat Farrar is now Pat Ashby, then Brat must be "all right," too.  In fact, he is, even to the point of being a "monster of rectitude" and paying Loding at least one installment on their arrangement.

 

All of these are details picked up from little bits of words and business that go into the making of the character(s) and the construction of the plot.

 

Again, the issue is not the mystery so much as it is how Brat Farrar acts and reacts within that framework.  He has what he wanted, in a most "be careful what you wish for" conundrum.  He has Latchetts, he has a sense of belonging.  But it comes with a huge price, and that game with Simon is not over.

 

When it finally comes, the confrontation is, of course, a stalemate.  From page 168:

 

[Simon] laughed under his breath and said: "It's a wonderful spiritual twinship, isn't it?  I can't tell about you and you can't tell about me!"

 

"You have the advantage of me, though."

 

"I have?  How?"

 

"You have no scruples."

 

The clear implication here is that Brat does have scruples, even if he hasn't shown any so far.  He also knows that Simon, who has already tried twice to kill him, will continue to try.  After all, he did kill Patrick, even if Brat hasn't figured out how he did it.

 

Their conversation continues:

 

"I suppose you wouldn't like, in return for my confidences, to tell me something?

 

"Tell you what?"

 

"Who you are?"

 

Brat sat looking at him for a long time.

 

"Don't you recognise me?" he said.

 

"No.  Who are you?"

 

"Retribution," said Brat, and finished his drink.

 

 

What I had missed on my first reading of this exquisite book was Brat's nobility, which goes right straight back to that law firm of Cosset, Thring and Noble.  Under the law, Simon had been cossetted as the heir to Latchetts.  He was spoiled and conceited and dangerous, but never challenged.  Thring is an Old English word, not familiar but nonetheless real.  Brat's return as Patrick has crowded, pressured, squeezed Simon out of his ill-gotten inheritance.  And now it is only Brat's essential nobility that can bring that retribution to Simon.

 

He will, of course, lose Latchetts, its wealth and its horses.  The revelation of his fraud will lose him the family he has come to love, to which he belongs as he has never belonged before.  He will also lose the woman he has come to love as more than just a member of that family.  And there is even the risk that he will lose his life.

 

But this is Brat Farrar's story.  Not Simon's and not Patrick's.  Just as Brat knew instinctively that Patrick was "all right," could he -- Brat -- be any less?

 

While I have written this, and it has taken me the better part of a full day, I have read the book yet again.  And it has not lost any of its magic, any of its nobility, any of its perfection.

 

Thee are a few books that I would automatically put on my "desert isle keeper" list.  The Far Pavilions is one.  Frank Yerby's The Saracen Blade is another.  They are longer and would provide more entertainment on that desert island simply by volume.  But for the sheer perfection of its writing, Brat Farrar has to be at the top of that list.

 

If I were to recommend a novel as the perfect example for aspiring writers to study, there is no question that this would be the model. 

 

read it and enjoy, then reread it and be amazed.

 

Ten stars?  More like twenty.

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