Just before I went on holiday I visited the wonderful Albion Beatnik Bookstore and picked up some second hand books and while I was away found a cheap copy of an Alice Munro collection in Tenby. Here’s what I thought of them:
Cover Her Face. PD James
I bought this one because I remembered reading it when young and enjoying it. It has stood the test of time, just. It’s a reasonably well paced puzzle for James’ famous detective, Adam Dalgleish, to solve. An unreliable maid who has alienated the family by declaring the son of the house proposed to her, is found dead in a locked room. The story of how and why she died is worth following because the reason for the murder is not obvious. Some of the characters are pretty stereotypical- the put upon sister, the hard working son – but the murdered Sally and the mother, Eleanor, are much more complex and satisfying. And although it suffers from being a bit too much of a parlour detective story, there are enough of the psychological flourishes that characterise her later work to keep you reading. Worth a punt.
Some Tame Gazelle. Barbara Pym.
I’ve never read Barbara Pym before, so I thought I’d give her a go. I have to say, I wasn’t quite sure of this, her debut novel. Apparently everyone thought it was marvellous at the time of publication, because she, a young woman, could imagine what it was like to be an elderly spinster. I’m not sure that’s such a huge achievement these days, and I found the country life comedy a little too much like the Vicar of Dibley for my tastes but there were some nice comic touches. I particularly enjoyed the one time love of one of the characters who was such a great hero in her youth, turning out to be a self centred and rather creepy Bishop. The central relationship between the sisters was well drawn and I liked the fact it didn’t end up with them marrying the men who proposed to them. So, although this wasn’t my favourite read this holiday, I’d probably pick give Pym another go.
The Daughter of Time. Josephine Tey.
I bought this because I remember my mum and sister raving about it when I was a teenager. I think I may have muddled it in my mind with an Anya Seton novel, as I loved her stories about the Plantaganets back then. Anyway, this one was a total disappointment I’m afraid. It’s a plodding story of a sick detective keeping his mind active in his recovery by investigating the deaths of the princes in the tower. (An idea copied by Colin Dexter a few decades later when he had Morse investigating a Victorian murder mystery from his sick bed. I didn’t enjoy that one either). Anyway, this might have been surprising in the 1950’s when perhaps history was fixated on Richard 111 being the villain, but in 2017 it was all a bit obvious and uninteresting. And I never did work out what the title meant…
Dear Life. Alice Munro.
I was very late to the party with Alice Munro and have only read two of her books (including this one). Shame on me because she really is as marvellous as everyone says. This collection is terrific featuring small and big moments in people’s lives, passing encounters, and evoking memorable landscapes. Every story is beautifully crafted, but my favourites are ‘Gravel’ in which a character is haunted by a childhood tragedy, ‘Amundsen’ where a young woman goes to work in a strange sanatorium where she falls in love with its director, and ‘Night’, a wonderful evocation of insomnia and the comfort fathers (even difficult ones) can bring. Can’t recommend this one highly enough.
My last post on this subject will be the new books I read, and there are some corkers…