Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This & That

Some stuff:

Sarah Waters.  The Guardian had an interesting interview with novelist Sarah Waters this week.

In the past, the literary grandes dames of the 20th century were larger-than-life figures as complex as Radclyffe Hall and Djuna Barnes or as frankly posh and exotic as Daphne du Maurier. Waters, who has the potential, and perhaps the appetite, to achieve a du Maurier audience, is not like that. She is at pains to stress her ordinariness. "I think I'm an unhysterical person," she says. "I do see myself as normal." Everything about her situation here advertises normality. "But," she goes on, "I think that what's behind normality is very interesting."

PD James and Elizabeth George.  At the beginning of May, Rohan Maitzen wrote a blog post that I intended to point to earlier about James and George called Who Cares who Killed ... Whoever it Was?  I had read George's last novel a few months ago but I just finished James' last novel The Private Patient recently.  I found a lot to think about in her post.

Often in my course on mystery and detective fiction we talk about the limits working in this genre sets on certain literary elements, chief among them characterization. A mystery novelist can not afford to mine the depths of her characters as long as they are suspects in the case. This technical limitation is most apparent in writers of 'puzzle mysteries,' such as Agatha Christie, but even with writers who develop their people quite fully, as James and George do, an element of opacity is required, not just about their actions, but about their feelings and values, else we will know too quickly "whodunnit." (There are exceptions, of course, as when some of the novel is openly from the point of view of the criminal, though often then we have inside knowledge without knowing the character's outward identity.) The same limits do not, however, apply to the detectives--which is one reason, as historians and critics of the genre have pointed out, for the appeal of the mystery series. Across a series of novels, we can come to know the detectives very well, and a developmental arc much longer than that of any single case emerges. Though the case provides the occasion, after a while the real interest lies with the detective.

I think that's true.  At this point I only read George to find out the next chapter in the saga of Lynley and also Barbara Havers.  The mystery is really irrelevant to me.   I read James because I like the way she writes and less to find out what happens to Dalgleish but that's only because I long ago learned that James will not reveal all about Dalgleish.   And this is why I continued reading Janet Evanavich all last summer even as I grew to almost dislike her formulaic writing.  I wanted to find out if Stephanie and Joe would get together - finally and completely.  When I figured out that Evanovich had no intention of doing anything but tease us with that relationship to sell books, I lost interest and I've never read her last novel.

Speaking of mystery detectives ...

My Summer Book Wish List.  Lindsey Davies has a new volume out in her Marcus Didius Falco series - volume #19.   It's called Alexandria and, yes, the mystery will be irrelevant.  I want to find out what's going on with Marcus, Helen and the kids.   Iain Pears, has a new novel out:  Stone's Fall.  Reviews say it's more like Dream of Scipio than An Instance of the Fingerpost, which sounds encouraging.   Dream is one of my favorite novels.  (And the fact he lists Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy as one of his three favorite books pleases me very much.)  A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book won't be released in the United States until October.  Will I be able to wait?  Or will I need to get it from a commonwealth country (hello Canada!) before then?  Or maybe someone who is traveling to Europe will pick it up for me in an airport bookstore ...



Finally ... a feel good story: