Monday, August 01, 2016

Books in Brief

Here's a brief recap of what I've been reading lately.

Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell. I want to like Angela Thirkell, but she's making it hard for me. Most of her books were published in the 1930's through the early '60s, and represent classic British cozy lit. I have now read six of her books and some of them have been amusing, but there is always something that rankles. Snobbery for one thing. It has been apparent in every one of her books so far. There's a certain complacency about class divisions too. Servants exist to clean up after you and that's the way it is. The mistreatment of servants is particularly on display in this book. The "demon" is young Tony Morland, visiting home on various holidays from school. Whenever he makes some sort of appalling mess, such as deliberately flooding the bath, his mother simply directs him to get the maid to clean it up. The whole book is devoted to Tony's various mishaps and mischief. I suppose Thirkell thought she was being funny, but Tony is a horrible brat. Also, he's thirteen years old but behaves like an eight year old, obsessed with toy trains and make-believe. Surely this wasn't typical of a boy that age, even a sheltered one in the 1930s. Thirkell refers to him repeatedly as a "little boy" making me wonder if she had ever known an actual child. Tony's companions are Rose and Dora from the vicarage. Rose is one of the drippiest girls in literature.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. An American classic. It's one Jewish man's long rant to his therapist. It's hilarious and so lascivious, I was a little embarrassed to be reading it on a plane. Read it to discover that no matter how neurotic you are, there is someone else who is even more neurotic. Also good if you want reassurance that maybe you aren't such a bad mother after all.

Plot it Yourself by Rex Stout. The comforting sameness of a Nero Wolf detective novel! The books are formulaic, but always suck you into the plot. These are more of an intellectual exercise and the focus is on Wolfe's deductions and not on blood and violence - despite the inventive ways of killing people that Stout invents for his murderers. I haven't read a Nero Wolf mystery yet that I was able to figure out on my own. This one is about a plagiarism scheme that leads to multiple murders for Wolfe to solve.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. This one is a real treat. It retells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants, particularly a housemaid named Sarah. Actually, it's inaccurate to call this a "retelling" of P&P, since the plot is focused on the servants lives and the Bennet sisters' adventures are more of a background noise. Jane Austen knock offs are often failures, but this one is really good. Sarah's story is entirely engrossing and it's interesting to see the Bennets from another perspective. They appear to be a genuinely nice family, although we see aspects of their characters that, while entirely plausible to the original story, are also thought-provoking. Elizabeth, while every bit as lively and good natured as she is in the original, is also a bit disappointing. Mrs. Bennet is more sympathetic; Mr. Bennet less so. I can pretty much guarantee you will like this one.

The Curse of the Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. This one was recommended by a reader. I'm not finished yet, but I know enough to give you the gist of it. First of all, it's fantasy, which isn't really my cup of tea since fantasy in general tends to be cheesy. This book has an engrossing plot and an appealing main character, but there is some cheesiness to it. Set in a fictional small kingdom of Chalion, in a time that is about technologically on par with the late middle ages, it's about the Lord Cazaril's return to his homeland after being treacherously abandoned as a prisoner of war in the neighboring kingdom of Roknari. Much intrigue, suspense, and magic. If you like fantasy, you'd like this, and even if you don't, but are looking for a well-plotted escape read, this would do the trick.


  1. I do like fantasy from time to time. I've always wondered about Portnoy's Complaint.
    I've moved away from memoirs for the time being and have reading some terrific books. I need to do another book update soon.

  2. You wrote "drippiest" and that made me feel so happy! we have to bring that back into conversation.
    I will look for "Longbourn." It sounds fabulous.

  3. "Rose is one of the drippiest girls in literature." I love this! This is my favorite sentence of the week. I have read some authors from earlier times, such as Dorothy Sayers's "Lord Peter Wimsey" books, and the anti-semitic side remarks just leap out at me.

    Longbourn looks really interesting.

    As for Philip Roth, for our book club we read "American Pastoral." I couldn't finish it because it was too annoying and violent. I did learn something interesting about glove-making, though.