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review 2015-09-30 18:40
Dorothy Sayers reading notes: Busman's Honeymoon
Busman's Honeymoon - Dorothy L. Sayers

The triumphant return of reading notes! This month, I plan to re-read and talk about four mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. Specifically, those which feature both Harriet Vane & Lord Peter Wimsey, since Harriet + Peter = otp forever. As always, these posts may (will!) contain massive spoilers so beware if you wish to avoid them.

 

Busman’s Honeymoon is the last full length Lord Peter Wimsey novel, coming immediately after Gaudy Night and describing the events of Peter & Harriet’s honeymoon. It’s one that I have not read very often. Gaudy Night is so perfect and therefore I’ve tended to resent the mere existence of another book which couldn’t possibly be as good. Now, having re-read it, I recognize that there are some really lovely moments, and yet it never has that transcendence that Gaudy Night does.

 

But also, Busman’s Honeymoon is hard for me to synthesize. It operates on three levels throughout the book, which on the face of it seem fairly disparate.

 

On the lightest layer, there’s a lot of piffle in this book. Four of the main characters are excellent pifflers: Peter, Harriet, the Dowager Duchess, and (surprisingly!) Superintendent Kirk. Both Miss Martin and the Dowager write extremely charming letters and diaries at the beginning of the book. (The Dowager’s “kissing one another madly in a punt, poor things,” has to be one of my favorite lines ever.) And through the murder investigation, Peter, Harriet, and Kirk make a kind of game of trading quotations and allusions. It’s even in the flights of imagination that all three detectives embark on as they try to create a possible explanation for Mr. Noakes’s death.

 

The next layer deals with the fact that this book shows Peter & Harriet adjusting to actually being married. This pervades the story in ways both large and small, and also gives us some of my favorite lines in the book. If at the wedding Harriet is “like a ship coming into harbor with everything shining and flags flying,” the rest of the book is both an echo and a test of that moment. “One is afraid to believe in one’s good fortune,” Peter says, and more than that even, the case presents them with a number of issues that would have to be worked out at some point but which are thrust upon them in the days that ought to be entirely halcyon.

 

Both Peter and Harriet have moments where they look at the other person and see them newly. Harriet, in seeing Peter’s competence with village dealings realizes “why it was that with all his masking attitudes, all his cosmopolitan self-adaptations, all his spiritual reticences and escapes, he yet carried about with him that permanent atmosphere of security.” Peter looks at Harriet and sees “a skin like pale honey and a mind of a curious, tough quality that stimulated his own. Yet no woman had ever so stirred his blood; she had only to look or speak to him to make the very bones shake in his body.”

 

But they are also wrestling with the realities of being married to each other. Not only the sweeps and Bunters and dead bodies, but the knitting together of these two people. Being married is a source of great joy. (“All my life I have been wandering in the dark–but now I have found your heart–and am satisfied.” “And what do all the great words come to in the end, but that?–I love you–I am at rest with you–I have come home.”) and that is presented as a reality itself.

 

At the same time, as Harriet notes, “Being preposterously fond of a person didn’t prevent one from hurting him unintentionally.” There are several crisis points in this book, where if Sayers were a different writer, if Peter and Harriet were different people, the whole thing might end in tragedy. But because they are themselves, they refuse to let their affection corrupt their judgement. At one of these points, Harriet says, “What kind of life could we have if I knew you had become less than yourself by marrying me?” It’s that gift of clear sight and integrity that she has carried with her throughout the books that holds them fast and in the end, wins them through.

 

In the last layer, there’s a bleakness that underlies the two happier strands and which at times seems quite jarring. Even in the description of the wedding day, there’s the mention of “a statement about Abyssinia,” by which Sayers means this. Busman’s Honeymoon was published in 1937, and thinking about it I did feel the shadow of WWII looming over the story. On the more personal level, Peter’s nightmares and his anguish over Frank Crutchley’s fate take this somewhere other than the earlier, lighter books, or indeed the honeymoon story one might expect. The village characters, with the exception of the delightful Superintendent Kirk, are not terribly appealing in some ways. Frank Crutchley’s unkindess, Miss Twitterton’s hopeless grasping after him, Mrs. Ruddle’s venomous tongue: these are not the stuff of which idylls are made.

 

And yet, in this last re-read, I begin to see that Peter’s distress (which is clearly tied to his PTSD from the first World War) shows the measure of his growth, and of his growing together with Harriet. At the very end, when Harriet can only wait for him to come–where the waiting is an active choice to let him make his own decision–he finally admits that he has this broken place within him. It’s only then that he can realize that he doesn’t have to be alone. “You’re my corner and I’ve come to hide,” he tells Harriet, in a more desperate version of his earlier declaration. But now it is true, and stripping away of this barrier allows the book to end with tempered joy: the distress over Frank Crutchley isn’t any less, but they are at the last, together.

 

Book source: personal library

Source: bysinginglight.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/dorothy-sayers-reading-notes-busmans-honeymoon
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review 2014-05-30 16:30
More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time - Nick Hornby
More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time - Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby's memoirs of reading as published in the Believer each month are my favorite writing about reading. I read the new collections as they're released and come back to them, either because my memory is so bad I forgot I already read them, or because they are awesome: take your pick.

 

***

10/11/12

 

My reading taste doesn't overlap all that much with Hornby. Nonetheless, I love his writing, especially his writing about being a reader. These four books of Believer columns are one of the highlights of my reading life. I've no idea what it is like to be flown into LA to attend the Oscars as a nominee, and can't really imagine it. But I do know what it is like, sitting on the sofa between two children, desperately trying to finish the last 25 pages of a good novel when someone else wants you to look at what's on the TV, and the noise is escaping from someone else's headphones. That I know very well.

 

It doesn't matter what he reads, it matters that he loves reading. Pretty much the same attitude I take toward my friends and folks I follow at GR [and now, here at BL].

 

Library copy.

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review 2014-01-16 00:49
Bujold Week: Cordelia's Honor reading notes, part 2
Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold

I’m bringing back an old feature I did a few times–reading notes! I tend to use these when I’m re-reading a book and having Thoughts that aren’t quite a review. In this case, I’m taking a look at the first two books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, handily collected into an omnibus and titled Cordelia’s Honor. Spoilers for the first two books should be expected.

 

On to Barrayar!

 

Again with Simon described as puppyish. No, my brain just refuses to give me that image.

 

Ah, of course–Aral is dismantling the Ministry of Political Education, ergo it doesn’t appear in the later books. It is interesting, though, how completely it disappears even as a bogey-man. (Imp Sec serves that function.)

 

Little Gregor! With a robot stegosaurus. Awwww. And charming his mother out of cream cakes–I love that little glimpse, but given what’s about to happen, what he’s about to lose, it makes me so sad at the same time.

 

The few years between the writing of Shards and Barrayar actually show up pretty clearly. Re-reading with the grace of hindsight, you can see how LMB wove in the thread of Barrayar’s reaction to physical and mental difference, from Koudelka and his sword-stick to Aral and Cordelia’s conversation about him and Bothari and Barrayaran customs. That is, her ability to set up the plot has improved. This shows up later too, when a key point of the plot hinges on that moment–forgotten except by Bothari–when Aral gives Cordelia the authority of his voice.

 

I didn’t expect the emotional blow of seeing what Miles’ name should have been, because of course at this point he’s just Miles and has never been anything else. But ‘Piotr Miles’–ow, ow, ow. And then continued blows in a one-two of Padma Xav Vorpatril (gives Tej’s Ivan Xav a different shade of meaning) and Cordelia’s imagining of herds of little Vorkosigans. This book is turning out to be much more traumatic than I expected.

 

The awful part is, I like Kareen. She comes through a marriage to someone awful in a remarkably sane way (even with Ezar’s help) and is then thrown into this probably sometimes uncomfortable relationship with Aral and Cordelia and deals with it with a lot of grace.

 

When I read this the first time, my sympathies after the soltoxin attack were entirely with Cordelia. And they still are, but I also see the conflict for Aral–wife, or father. Actually, it’s not a conflict exactly; he always chooses wife, but it’s hard to do so. It’s breaking his heart in two. (Or perhaps three, when you consider how quickly he’s forced to use his position as Regent in a personal matter.)

 

“The chill of the Dendarii night.” Oh. Well, there’s echoes for you. (Gives a new shade of meaning to Miles’ choice of names–rebellion, homage, ?)

 

I suspect the thread that ties this story together is Cordelia’s moving from a passive ‘just a wife and mother’ model (which of course, no one ever is) to, well, herself. The Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan that we know and love, where being a wife and mother is part of who she is, but not the sum of it. It starts becoming apparent when she and Gregor are hiding out in the mountains.

 

Oh, Kareen.

Source: bysinginglight.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/bujold-week-cordelias-honor-part-2
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review 2014-01-14 00:48
Bujold Week: Cordelia's Honor reading notes, part 1
Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold

I’m bringing back an old feature I did a few times–reading notes! I tend to use these when I’m re-reading a book and having Thoughts that aren’t quite a review. In this case, I’m taking a look at the first two books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, handily collected into an omnibus and titled Cordelia’s Honor. Spoilers for the first two books should be expected.

 

Today: Shards of Honor

 

It is quite strange to re-read these earliest of books; the Barrayar that is shown in the beginning of Shards of Honor is so manifestly not the Barrayar that we see later on. Of course, we are very much in Cordelia’s point-of-view, and yet there are also things like the Ministry of Political Education which I don’t remember seeing in any other book. On the other hand, there are tantalizing glimpses of things like the importance of spoken oaths in Barrayaran culture (which later translates into Miles’ authority as the Imperial Auditor).

 

I think what I continue to admire and value in both Aral and Cordelia (and their subsequent offspring) is the sense of duty and trying one’s best. It’s not as simple as patriotism, and especially not the unthinking and uncritical variety. But it’s the duty of care to those around the characters which drives them forward, and which is often rewarded.

 

Ugh, Vorrutyer is so awful. How is By related to him? (By is awful in his own way, but it is decidedly NOT this Vorrutyer’s.)

 

I think partly, dovetailing off of this and also Prince Serg, I’m so used to the fearsome and sometimes questionable but also sympathetic grouping of The Gregor, Miles, Aral, and Simon that I forget what a dark period Barrayar had just passed through. Serg and Vorrutyer are the last hurrah of the old bad times, in a way.

 

ILLYAN!! It’s so fun meeting the people who become important later on, this time knowing who they are, or rather who they will be. Also, Simon with a bland puppy face is almost unimaginable. But for that matter, Simon spying on, instead of for, Aral is almost unimaginable.

 

Part of what’s interesting to me is Cordelia’s journey from seeing Barrayar as completely evil, to understanding it a bit better, to going home and seeing the flaws in her own society. Although she’s quite a bit older than a teen, it has a kind of YA coming-of-age feel to it.

 

“We’re going to have a family. I’ll not risk them in those gladiator politics.” Oh, ow.

Source: bysinginglight.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/bujold-week-cordelias-honor-reading-notes-1
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review 2013-11-17 04:05
More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself
More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby Another typically engaging, witty collection of Hornby's book review columns from the Believer magazine. This is the fourth book in the series, and given the time frame, perhaps the most relevant. Hornby (already one of my favorite writers) lists the books he's purchased over the last month and those he's read, and the difference between the two is instructive, especially if you're like a lot of us and your reader's eyes are bigger than your time budget. Hornby's reviews of the books are witty; he correctly places his individual book reviews within the arc of his reading, which is a far more honest way of handling reviews. I'm a big Hornby fan and while I'm not reading a lot of the same title he is, his collection of reviews did add a good-sized chunk of titles to my "to-read" list, so you read this fun little collection of reviews at your own risk.
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