In the vast, wide world of reading, there is room for infinite points of view. (What else could explain James Patterson?) And even within the much smaller world of book-bloggers whose reading tastes align with my own there is room for much diversity.
Sometimes we all sound like we are in an echo chamber, with heaps of praise bouncing around from blog to blog as if we all shared a brain. (I was going to reference the Borg, but I am not sure how many of you would catch the Star Trek reference. I am not a Star Trek geek, but I did have a boyfriend back in the 1990s who, rather enjoyably, inculcated me into the world of ST:TNG. For my part, I turned him into a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs.)
But then there are those times when a chill wind blows through the cozy world of cardigan novels. When the teapot is upset and biscuits fly across the room. When the garden party is rained out. When the ginger beer causes wind. When, well you get the idea, when book-bloggers think to themselves “maybe I don’t know this person as well as I thought I did”.
Well, today is one of those days. One of those days when, like an unruly, ungrateful teenager needlessly rebelling against hearth and home, I risk the warm, welcoming bosom of my bosom-buddy book-blogger friends. Of course I am not the first to risk provocation. There have been some thoughtful blog posts lately about respectful disagreement here
. (And of course there was that brouhaha some time ago that had the Atlantic seething with raw emotion as the old country attempted to put a former colony in its place. I largely stayed out of that one, but from my point of view it was so poorly reasoned and with only weak anecdotal supporting data that it seems its only purpose was to incite blog traffic. Is that what I am doing now? I doubt it, my readership isn’t as vast, I don’t think that that blogger reads my blog :-( and I don’t Twitter so it is unlikely I will see much of an uptick in traffic. On the other hand, I do hope it incites lots of comments from regular readers and especially you lurkers who remain so quiet. After all, part of the narcissistic pleasure of blogging is having your own literary brilliance reflected back on you by your adoring fans. Although I shouldn’t joke because I genuinely do like getting comments, especially those that move the conversation forward or in another direction. I usually respond to them all, sometimes posing questions to commenters because I truly like to hear more about you and what you think.)
So which sacred cow will I injure first? I think I will start with the one about which I have less to say–and may God and Simon Thomas forgive me–Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. I liked the fact that the main character was an organist, we don’t get many of those in fiction. And I liked the premise of the novel quite a bit, it was very creative, and to my experience at least, very original. There was something in the execution of the plot, however, that left me wishing to rewrite it. If any of you saw the dreadful movie Inception you know that I am talking about. Fine, create your whimsical, supernatural world, but you still need to maintain an appropriate logical structure within the parameters of the world you have created. I am not saying Miss Hargreaves was a bad book (but Inception was a bad movie) by any means. It just didn’t keep me as enthralled as I wanted to be. (And as long as I am letting it all hang out, I must say I have been let down by most of my Bloomsbury Group reading experiences. It appears I like the idea of them much more than I like the actual books. (A huge exception would be in their Mrs. Harris reissue, but I read that in an older edition anyway.) And I won’t even mention the poor quality of the paper. No doubt its rough, pulpy quality is the result of being green, but the feel of it on my hands makes my teeth itch.)
The second sacred cow I will poke in the eye, is one of my own making. As a lover of all things Whipple, I was disappointed by her novel Someone at a Distance. My previous experiences with High Wages and The Priory were fantastic. And I liked her short stories in The Closed Door even more. As I mentioned in my review, I think Whipple’s plot arcs are much better in her short fiction. She sometimes has problems with plot in longer fiction. She doesn’t so much as lose the plot in her novels as compress a whole lot of action into too short a period. I liked HW and TP so much that, while I noticed it, it didn’t bother me. Not so with Someone at a Distance.
Whipple spends most of the novel presenting a rather wrenching tragedy, but then with lightning quickness, in the last 30 or so pages makes everything groovy. (Although, if I am being fair it is still somewhat tragically groovy.) I suppose she did the same darn thing in HW and TP, but for some reason in those novels it seemed like a more natural progression. And in SAAD (what an apt acronym) the motivation for most of the characters was more than a little hard to swallow. Louise was selfish and wanted to right a wrong with a whole series of wrongs. And far worse than Avery’s infidelity was his extreme cowardice. One began to wonder if he had a set at all, but he must have or he wouldn’t have gone after Louise in the first place. Plus it seems to me that his little bed and clothes at the office suggest that Louise wasn’t the first piece of tail that Avery went after. And then there is Ellen. Poor, suffering Ellen. Not willing to lift one finger to save her marriage. Accepting everything as it came along. Brilliantly playing the martyr so she can go live out a Marie Antoinette fantasy at an old folks home. And you know what? Anne is 17 freaking years old, if she has to give up her horse, big whoop. Life sucks sometimes Anne. You think losing your horse is bad? Try watching your 20-year marriage disappear in an instant. And then of course there is noble Hugh. Not a cent will he take from his father, giving up Cambridge just to show how much he hates the cheating bastard. And then out of nowhere Miss Daley, who we didn’t even know needed rescuing gets caught up in the happy denouement as well.
As awful a human being as she was, I am far from believing that Louise was the villain of the book. They all played their role in the destruction of their lives.
I probably don’t dislike this book as much as I am making it sound. I would still probably give it a 6 out of 10. But I think what puzzles me is why it is such a favorite Whipple, so much so that it is a Persephone Classic. And fear not, I am still a faithful member of Team Whipple. But as with everything in life, one must realize that even our heroes are fallible.