To be continued!?!

October 5, 2009

book language of bees

Pro: Laurie R King writes a ripping good yarn chock full of drama and intrigue, danger and emotional misdirection.  I spent the day on the edge of my sofa, literally.

Con: to be continued.

I think anyone who reads this should be forewarned that the latest installment in the Mary Russell set ends on the mother of all cliffhangers.  That said it was a fabulous way to mis-use my Sunday.  I picked up the book shortly after noon as a way to temporarily delay getting into the heavy lifting of the day – house cleaning, Fulbright work and some overdue craft projects and completely went down the rabbit hole.  I stopped a few hours in to reheat some of Friday’s pizza for lunch.  At a break in the drama I did the dishes.  And just before dark I talked myself into walking over to the grocery store for some dinner ingredients.  I read while I walked and had to stand around in the produce department reading with wild eyes until I came to something like a stopping point.  I walked the groceries back and put a few things in the freezer, then flopped back onto the sofa to read further.  My quiche finally was made and came out of the oven at 9:00PM.  I came to a crashing halt at the end of the book less than ten hours after picking it up and found to my horror that … its a to be continued.  ARGH!

That said, my agony is only further indication of well written drama.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Mary Russell novels since I picked up the first one about six years ago at the suggestion of a friend.  I was immediately intrigued by Mary’s strong intellectual character and in love with the setting.  I am a huge anglophile and between the wars England is my favorite fictional period.  King is also an amazingly innovative writer.  Its a nine part series yet each book goes off in a new and unexpected direction.  In fact with each one I begin reading and am thrown in the first few pages by the premise: “what, Mary and Holmes are going to get married!?!”  “What?  She’s jumped back five years into the plot time period of the first book?”  “What?  They’re going to INDIA?”  In each case I am thrown off balance and have to re-approach the book with an open mind.  Usually by page 50 I am totally immersed and when I close the book its my new favorite.  (That’s not true, actually, Justice Hall is still my favorite).  This time the the jarring plot twist is Holmes’ son.  He was mentioned parenthetically in a single paragraph of A Monstrous Regiment of Women and (in my memory) never mentioned again.  However, King is not an author who lets a little thing like the established chronology of her own books get in the way of her narrative progress.  She simply includes a flashback section, jumping from 1924 back to 1919 to explain how we already knew all about this already.  Masterful.

My favorite scene may be when Mary goes to Oxford to consult an aged professor about cult rituals.  They go out in a punt in a scene reminding me strongly of Harriet and Lord Peter catching each other up on the case in Gaudy Night.  Since King knows (although she usually doesn’t admit directly) that she is writing for an audience both modern and largely American she pauses to explain what this scene looks like descriptively rather than reminiscently as Sayers did.

“A punt is twenty-four feet of low, blunt-ended boat propelled by dropping the end of a young tree into the river bottom, leaning on it with precision, then snapping the dripping pole up, hand over hand, until all sixteen feet of it are clear of the water.  Several hundred of these repetitions go into a day’s entertainment.”

Sayers felt no such compunctions about explaining herself.  This is partly due to the fact that she was writing for her contemporaries in England who shared many of the experiences that I find so delightfully exotic.  She was also delightfully snobbish and thus probably wouldn’t have explained anyway.  She bandies about obscure literary references and includes whole passages in Latin or French untranslated, simply assuming that her reader will understand.   This double obscurity leads to handfuls of annotations like this one, aimed at helping out modern readers.  I personally enjoy figuring it out from context and always delight when I come across a reference or quote of hers in other circumstances.

I noted another parallel towards the end of the book.  Russell has to fly in dangerous circumstances to meet a deadline in the case and it seemed very reminicent of Lord Peter’s dramatic trans-atlantic flight at the end of Clouds of Witness to find the woman who had rejected Denis Cathcart.  Again, King takes advantage of her knowledge of history to poke fun at the time period slightly.  Mary shudders at the thought of the risky flight and her jaunty former RAF pilot tells her

“…this is the next revolution in travel.”

Emergency speed was one thing, but I did not imagine that the world was full of people eater to be cramped into place, shaken about, deaffended, frozen, biled and frightened silly for the sake of a few hours saved.  “I don’t believe I’ll invest in Imperial Airways quite yet, thank you.”

“You’re losing an opportunity.”


One Response to “To be continued!?!”

  1. Rebecca Reid Says:

    Hi, you filled out the form to get more information about The Classics Circuit, but you didn’t leave an email address!

    At any rate, that was to get preliminary information about The Circuit. Please note that the Wilkie Collins circuit sign up has closed. Today, the Elizabeth Gaskell circuit will open. Check out the website for up-to-date information.


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