Review: Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James

Okay, I know you remember that I said no more books I can get at home. I know I know I know. I realize this post means that Diary of a Provincial Lady was not my last exception to the rule. Actually the rule was, I will only read books that I cannot get when I am at home, unless the author gives his or her name as two initials followed by a surname. Please do not be perturbed by my Orwellian alteration of a previously established rule.

P.D. James, acclaimed writer of detective fiction, has a number of things to say about the genre, as you may imagine. She spoke of Agatha Christie and of Dorothy Sayers, and of how detective writers enjoy (as they should) a lovely country house mystery, with a finite number of suspects to play with. I liked it when she complimented Agatha Christie. I appreciate compliments to Agatha Christie’s cleverness at mysteries: James gave an example of a book in which a butler peers at the clock; and you are given to understand that this is a clue relating to times and dates, when in fact the clue is that the butler is short-sighted. That is clever! Agatha Christie! She’s clever!

I don’t read that much detective fiction, actually, and thus I have very little to say about this book. Agatha Christie (for the cleverness) and Dorothy Sayers (for the superb writing and for Harriet Vane) and Elizabeth Peters (for being hilarious) and that, I believe, is it. But I like reading books about books – I have made a special section on my TBR list for books about books, although it is rather short because there are not enough books about books. I am contemplating renaming the section and including books about words in it as well.

What I do have to say about this book: P.D. James said something about the “reprehensible expedient” of reading the end of a book. Reprehensible expedient! I do not do it as a reprehensible expedient! I do it because it is joyful! P.D. James hurt my feelings when she said that. I snapped the book shut and said “YOU are a reprehensible expedient!” And then I remembered that P.D. James is ninety, and it’s not nice to call ninety-year-old women a reprehensible expedient. Or anyone really. In my defense, it is unbelievably hot this week, and being hot all day every day makes me a less nice person.

My method of reading is perfectly valid and I stand by it. But I have been considering doing an experiment later on this year, maybe in September, where I take one whole month, and throughout that entire month, I don’t read ahead in any book whatsoever for any reason. What do you think? Attempt the experiment, in a spirit of true scientific inquiry, risking the possibility that I won’t enjoy any single book I read in September? Or maintain my customary reading methods without a sustained effort to appreciate the other side’s view?

Other people that read it:

A Striped Armchair
A Work in Progress
Fleur Fisher Reads
Lost in Books
A Bibliophilist’s Reading List

Did I miss yours?

The Children of Men, P.D. James

So my thoughts on the film version of Children of Men sort of went like this: Mmmm, Clive Owen.  And then, Ah yes, apocalypse, issues being dealt with – I feel like this is a perfect time for Clive Owen to strangle someone with his bare hands.  This is shallow, I know, but I just have this reaction to Clive Owen every time I see him.  Even in Gosford Park when there was absolutely no chance of his strangling someone with his bare hands, because it was all proper and British up in that movie.

My thoughts on the book did not include any reflections about Clive Owen.  I was underwhelmed, I have to say.  For a dystopian novel, this was pretty tame.  All the women in the world have stopped having babies (that’s quite excellent as a premise!), so the world is slowly dying out.  Not very nice for anyone.  The protagonist, Theo, is cousin to the Warden of England; he keeps a diary and gets approached by a group of dissidents.  They want him to approach the Warden and ask the Warden to fix some things, like the officially-voluntary-but-really-sort-of-compulsory mass suicide of the elderly.  This doesn’t work out, as you might expect, and then it turns out that one of the dissidents is pregnant!  And then they have to go on the run!

Here was my problem, and I’m going to have spoilers here.  The whole thing lacked a feeling of suspense.  There wasn’t a viable enemy – the pregnant chick was convinced that she would die instantly if the government found her, so that’s why they were on the run.  I didn’t have a feeling that they were in really terrible danger, even after several of their group got caught and killed.  For some reason, Theo kept a diary for half the book, alternating with third-person narrative, and then he was like, Meh, I’m tired of this diary business, which felt like P.D. James saying, Why did I start this diary in the first place?  Jesus.  You don’t find out Julian’s pregnant until halfway through the book.  I WAS DISPLEASED.

However, I still want to read some of P.D. James’s proper mysteries.  Dystopia may not be her thing.  And I don’t really like dystopian books either, although I seem to have read a lot of them in the past year for some reason.

Other thoughts:

an adventure in reading
books i done read
Grasping for the Wind
Books on Screen
Books and Other Stuff
Ready When You Are, C.B.
she treads softly
Semicolon

Let me know if I missed yours!