These are basically going to be nibs. I’m on a schedule [which I have so far failed to keep]. Maybe if I get some downtime later I’ll revisit my notes on some of them.
This project has induced me to do something I never thought I would do: read The Turn of the Screw voluntarily and on my own time. I never really enjoyed studying it at A level; if nothing else, James’s habit of breaking up contractions (writing “it ’s” and “was n’t”) is an infuriating affectation.
But read it I did, my note-suffused copy, and remember all the competing interpretations (is it a ghost story? Is the unnamed governess mad, brain-fevered from too much reading like Catherine Morland or Don Quixote and imagining herself some sort of Christ-figure? Is it all a cruel trick of Mrs Grose?). Because of its length, I got a second opinion on whether it counts as a novel; let it not be said I am less than scrupulous.
I’ve never read a Lord Peter Wimsey book before, but I have special though minor reasons to – Ian Carmichael, who played the titular detective in various adaptations, was the brother of my step-great-grandfather (or some such thing). Finally getting around to it, then, I loved Murder Must Advertise. It is funny, it is engaging, it goes beyond the simple country-house murder or pure puzzle. It’s more a story about this chap (in an extremely racy 1930s milieu) who happens to solve crime, in and around the advertising and the dressing up in a Harlequin costume (don’t ask). Definitely read. I know I’m going to be seeking out more. “If there is one thing more repulsive than another, it is Balliolity.” “What you need is a good dinner and a bottle of fizz” (I approve this message). Some hilarious exchanges on public schools (“‘Rugby,’ suggested Mr Ingleby. ‘No, no,’ protested Bredon, ‘that’s a railway junction.’”) , the upper classes (“My brother, being an English gentleman, possesses a library in all his houses, though he never opens a book. This is called fidelity to an ancient tradition”) and the nature of crowds (“they can’t rest till they’ve made everybody they have to do with as bad as themselves”). And Wimsey wins my eternal affection for calling out the abuse of the English language which is the phrase “mutual friend”.
I don’t think I can think of a better word for this book than sordid. It just leaves me feeling vaguely dirtied. It’s intensely sad come the end, of course, but even before that something seems sick at its core. Maybe it’s supposed to.
Because I’m writing this post all at once, I’m finding that having just read Of Mice and Men is predisposing me very favourably to almost any other book. I’m almost bursting out in song about The Turn of the Screw. I feel like that definitely says something.
The Turn of the Screw
Author Henry James
Best character Mrs Griffin, from the frame narrative.
Murder Must Advertise
Author Dorothy L. Sayers
Best character Miss Meteyard. Actually, all the ladies at Pym’s are great craic.
Of Mice and Men
Author John Steinbeck
Best character Ugh