Poor Latimer. An English economics wonk with a successful career as a mystery writer, a stiff upper lip and button-upped tight shirt to go with his buPoor Latimer. An English economics wonk with a successful career as a mystery writer, a stiff upper lip and button-upped tight shirt to go with his button-upped tight moral code falls in with one of the most slimy, unctuous grifters to grace literature. One Mr. Peters, a cherub of corruption with glowing false teeth. It is Latimer's own doing. While on holiday in Turkey he meets a roguish member of the Turkish secret police, another delightful minor character. Hakkis is a fan of the English mystery novel, especially of Latimer's books. They drink coffee (much coffee is drunk in this book), then Hakkis takes Latimer to the morgue to see the catch of the day, the body of Dimitrios which was found floating in the Bosphorus. Dimitrios, fig packer (by the way, that isn't an odd euphemism; he actual worked as a fig packer) murderer, hustler, political operative, pimp, all-purpose bad guy with a heart of rusted out chrome and sinister eyes fascinates Latimer who as an academic exercise decides to build a dossier for the dead man. The police accounts shot through with gaps and holes.
If I were on holiday in Turkey on the eve of WWII, I would instead have had another cup of coffee, then sat on the shimmering sands. Perhaps fetched a camel and sojourned to Ephesus. Spent a pensive hour at the home of Our Holy Mother. I WOULD NOT drink coffee with the head of Turkish secret police to begin with. I certainly would not then decide as a lark to look into the life and death of a Greek-speaking Turkish super villain. Perhaps you remember the Levant and the Balkans was a murky quagmire of intrigue and death at that time. But, each to his own. That's what Latimer decides to do. I am glad he decides to because it makes for a fantastic story. With Latimer one globe trots about Southern Europe. Paris! Rome! Geneva! Athens! Izmir! Istanbul! Sofia! One meets a colorful Marxist journalist who delivers my favorite line of the book, "Of course I was exaggerating. But it is agreeable sometimes to talk in primary colors even if you have to think in greys." Oh, one meets such interesting people. Several who take a jabs at Latimer's English armor, he wears a full metal suit of priggishness. Much of the books humor comes from this.
A Coffin for Dimitrios is great fun. The characters are a hoot. Why 4 stars? Well, it's really 4-1/2. The pacing was a bit sluggish at times. Otherwise, so much fun!...more
Let's talk irony. Vile Bodies, published in 1930, 10 years before the first Nazi bomb fell on London, ends on a battlefield in Europe. Flip to the froLet's talk irony. Vile Bodies, published in 1930, 10 years before the first Nazi bomb fell on London, ends on a battlefield in Europe. Flip to the front, which I only did after reading the book, and you will find the novel is dedicated "with love to Bryan and Diana Guinness." These sorts of twists fill the book. Fates unravel, twist ludicrously, and fizzle in the wasteland that is the time between the wars in England. Robert Graves and Alan Hodge would title their history of the era The Long Weekend.
Now, let's talk patience. The first half of Vile Bodies required untold patience of me. The satire wasn't biting enough to have force. Instead, the tone comes across as flippant, even silly. Enough nipping to be annoying, but not potent enough draw blood. The characters, even the main characters, Nina and Adam, are little more than cartoons. As a send up of the Bright Young Things perhaps this is appropriate. The cinematic quick cutting of scenes perhaps is also appropriate for this vapid set. Yet, it was annoying. Other authors have approached this era in a more thoughtful and intellectually honest manner, Anthony Powell for starters. Diana Guinness Mosley's sister Nancy Mitford, for another.
Finally, I felt a readerly obligation to finish the book. After all, Waugh had pulled of a minor literary classic with Brideshead, so perhaps this would shape up. After all, Handful of Dust had left me in tears. It is in the denouement that Vile Bodies reaches its moral force and becomes heartbreaking with Adam leaving one wasteland for another.
Does it reach the power of Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (or at least the volumes that deal with this era)? No way! Mitford's The Pursuit of Love or Love in a Cold Climate? No....but it has its own piquancy. Its own slight art. It is worth a read.
Back in the late '90s, I read several of Nancy Mitford's novels and histories, and Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels for good measure. The family seemBack in the late '90s, I read several of Nancy Mitford's novels and histories, and Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels for good measure. The family seemed like unfailingly fascinating. This book does provide some new insights into the relationship of the Mitfords, especially the parents; however, so much for the unfailingly interesting bit. I skipped chunks which seemed redundant. Unity's stalking Hitler was creepy, not fascinating.
A common misconception among those who I know who have read the book is that the Mitford support of Facism was odd for between the wars England. Far from it!
Perhaps it is because there is so much out there about Nancy already, The Sisters does not develop her life very well or with much depth or insight. It is a bit of a wonder that there is never the whiff of a mention of the Duke of Devonshire's extreme alcoholism. Considering Debo left for a time period, considering how Debo made such a success of the family estate while being hampered by his drinking, it should have been mentioned! ...more
In God on the Rocks bit by vague bit the reader slowly learns more about the relationships, especially between the members of two families within a EnIn God on the Rocks bit by vague bit the reader slowly learns more about the relationships, especially between the members of two families within a English seaside town, until it all becomes clear in the end, with a few surprises thrown in for delectable measure. Gardam's prose is limpid, never fussy or overwrought. The dialogue is at times maddeningly, tantalizingly evasive and vague.
Most of the this summer world is viewed through the lens of an eight year old girl, Margaret, whose father insists on a rigidly religious household. Margaret's mother, a fanciful woman, tries to maintain the proprieties expected of the her banker-cum-charismatic-preacher husband, while Margaret at once chaffs at her father's teachings and proselytizes of her own accord. She is certainly a child who often "gets beyond herself" in her vexation with the seemingly queer ideas of adults. However, our omniscient narrator will sometimes shift her focus to other characters such as Margaret's mother Elinor. With these shifts much of that which has only been half understood begins to become clearer.
With the introduction of a voluptuous maid, a new baby in the household, and the return of Elinor's childhood friends to the area, family bonds are stretched to a breaking point.
God on the Rocks is a well paced book full of odd types and underlying mysteries of love, acceptance and change....more
The Death of the Heart chronicles the fate of a young girl who is left in the care of indifferent, and at times, resentful adults. Portia has lived aThe Death of the Heart chronicles the fate of a young girl who is left in the care of indifferent, and at times, resentful adults. Portia has lived a stunted life with her mother and father. Having had middle age affair, her father find himself with a pregnant mistress. His wife makes a project of directing his enterance into a new life with his mistress and soon to be baby, Portia. However, this life exacts banishment from England and wandering from one second rate European hotel to another. This had been Portia's life until her parents' deaths uncovers a request from her now dead father which plays upon her half-brother's sense of duty. It is just too bad that that sense of duty isn't coupled with concern. Wrapped up in his own life, he is put out whenever he must extend beyond it, whether that be spending time with his wife and her friends or attempting to make his half-sister at home. His wife is even worse. A bundle of egotism and careful orchestrator of her life, she is the worst possible woman for a sensitive, perceptive girl to be cast upon.
Besides having too much time on her hands, Portia had never been properly introduced into the vagaries of social custom. Soon she is at a loss and ready to entrust her heart to the first person to show her some interest. How she navigates the falsity of her brother and sister-in-law's world and comes to a clearer less innocent understanding of society is the principal concern of the story. Besides following the lines of the classic coming-of-age story, Bowen attempts also to examine, and with a harsh lens, 1930s London. She is an insightful psychologist and brutal observer. Among this assortment if soulless urbanites, the author does create a handful of character with redeeming qualities, but for the most part modern London is a minefield of deceit where one must walk carefully among the artfully constructed personas of the genteel. But all is not lost. Contact with Portia seems that it might be a cure for the self-centered. Of course this depends on how much one makes of some of the conversation at the end. Much of this is oblique and of questionable resolve.
At times the book is uncomfortable reading. It is hard to see such a sweet girl fall victim to a heartless society and made the plaything of hopeless cad, though there are some moments in which kind people try to ease her difficulties....more
The Red House Mystery is a golden age of mystery treat with two charming amateur dectives at the helm. Readers of John Dickson Carr and Dorothy L. SayThe Red House Mystery is a golden age of mystery treat with two charming amateur dectives at the helm. Readers of John Dickson Carr and Dorothy L. Sayers will find it amusing, though not as masterful as Sayers....more
I have been interested in this book since I first saw it listed in the book catalogue, A Common Reader, a bookseller-by-post institution that I very mI have been interested in this book since I first saw it listed in the book catalogue, A Common Reader, a bookseller-by-post institution that I very much miss. Sometimes it was as good as reading an actual book. Anyhow, I was lucky enough to find this copy at a Friends of the Library book sale on the day that you buy books at the rate of a dollar a bag-full. We left with three bags full. Which reminds me of a rhyme. As mentioned in my review of Bridget Jones's Diary, I began reading this one after mentally throwing Bridget Jones across the room with hearty disgust. What dreck!
As a point of interest, maybe only to me, later when I was googling E. M. Delafield, I found a review of Bridget Jones in which the reviewer states that Helen Fielding is Delafeild's literary successor, a statement that could only be perpetrated by someone who has not read the Provincial Lady books, but instead only knows that the story is told in a diary format. You see, Delafield's lady is actually funny. And insightful. Bridget is a thumping bore. Of course the Bridget's plot is a good one, but, huh-hmmmm, it would be since it is the plot of a book that has routinely appeared in the top ten greatest novels lists.
Since this is actually a review for Delafield's book I suppose I should actually review it and stop my ranting about "that one."
The Provincial Lady if not exactly a scream is but certainly is a lot of fun to spend a weekend with. Her insights into the literary world of the 1930s are wry. With nary a harsh word she exposes all manner of pretensions. In this outing, our heroine is, in her opinion, less than glowing in the limelight of her recent literary success. She never seems to have the right thing to wear. Okay, I know how that feels. She becomes reacquainted with an acquaintance from years ago. The acquaintance makes out a more friendlier relationship than actually existed. Said auld acquaintance has since had a tawdry romantic history, and leans a bit heavily on our heroine. Okay, currently similarly enmeshed. She is getting all sorts of advice about where and whether or not she should send young daughter Vicky off to prep school. Vicky, a bit of a pill in not especially awful ways, wants to go. Currently, my parents are insisting that I am not doing my duty if I do not ship elf and twig off to name brand prep schools in the next few years and are wondering how the application processes are going. Hmmm...Then there is the servant problem. Our provincial lady just can't bring herself to recommend changes in the servants plans, menus, work. I used to clean before the maid came so she wouldn't think badly of me.
This is all to say that I think The Provincial Lady and I could be good friends. So, I think I will seek out the other books. I just wished I could remember her name. But, that's okay, she has troubles with names too...more