The rather delayed third novel in this series came out last fall - The Sleeping Partner. I haven't been able to get to it yet, but I've been meaning t...moreThe rather delayed third novel in this series came out last fall - The Sleeping Partner. I haven't been able to get to it yet, but I've been meaning to reread Point of Honour and Petty Treason for a while, anyway. (There's going to be a fourth, also! Which is great.)
What I like about these books is, primarily and quite rightly, the heroine, Sarah Tolerance. Serial mysteries do rather live or die on the strength of their main characters, and Robins has done a great job with her Miss Tolerance. Sarah is clear-eyed and persistent, believably clever, tough, resourceful - all the traits you'd need to have this job as a woman in the early 19th century. (It's worth noting that Robins' Regency is sort of a parallel universe Regency - not exactly the Regency we know, but close enough to be recognizable, and she slides the differences in without much comment.) But she's not without her faults, flaws, and blind spots.
I like, also, the way Robins mixes the flinty perspective of her heroine (and her heroine's circumstances) and the very, very, very polite social milieu we tend to associate with this time period. That Sarah Tolerance is caught between one world and the other does not go unnoticed or unremarked in the narrative, but the novel is itself a kind of mixture. I mean, the book opens with a riff on that most famous of opening lines, "It is a truth universally acknowledged . . ." Robins knows what she's doing. It's tough to balance the conventions of noir with the conventions of ~romantic historical fiction, and yet Robins manages. Point of Honour is both a diverting genre read, and a thought-provoking book.(less)
I've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel"...moreI've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel" problems.(less)
I don't really understand why ITV hasn't snapped up the rights to these books against some future date when they're low on Downton Abbey and Lewis scr...moreI don't really understand why ITV hasn't snapped up the rights to these books against some future date when they're low on Downton Abbey and Lewis scripts. It's true, Sarah Tolerance works basically on her own - she's more a noir detective than a procedural heroine - so a great deal of the book is just her, um, thinking stuff over rather than talking it over with Laurence Fox or whatever, so that's maybe a strike against the cinematic qualities of the books, but certainly more internal novels have translated well enough, and there is something about Sarah Tolerance and her adventures that would really do well on the lushly appointed small screen. (Dimly lit [whorehouses/streets/mansions/taverns]! Billowing greatcoats! SWORD FIGHTS. It'd be great.)
Anyway, I think that Petty Treason is, perhaps, less excellent than it might have been. Frankly, a great deal of the plot and pacing depends on Sarah forgetting or not getting around to check something out. The culprits are pretty easy to spot - but when aren't they? And I think the complexity of the secret plots are interesting enough to make up for that. (Robins also does some interesting work with layering the characterizations, which I appreciated.)
The main draw, of course, is Sarah Tolerance herself. She's filled with self-doubt in this installment, to the point of overcompensation. But she's still quite competent - in fact, I get the impression that she's much more competent than lucky, which is interesting for a fictional character. Obviously, luck plays a great part in a mystery novel and in being an Agent of Inquiry, as the slightly-off Regency world of these books styles her. But she has to put up with a lot of shit, too.
I'm also very fond of the secondary characters in these books. Looking forward to The Sleeping Partner (I can't read it until I finish a seminar paper, I've decided).(less)
September 2012: 1. What are the other war novels about women? The only one I can think of right now is Gone With the Wind. (If you are insensitive enou...moreSeptember 2012: 1. What are the other war novels about women? The only one I can think of right now is Gone With the Wind. (If you are insensitive enough, or you inhabit a post-racial future, maybe you will be able to write a really good paper on Scarlett and Melanie and Olanna and Kainene!) There must be others, though. Maybe The English Patient (I don't think of that as a war novel, although to be fair, probably as much of it takes place during war as in this book). Pat Barker's Life Class, but that's really an "art" novel, isn't it? The Blindness of the Heart, but I hated it (but for the purposes of this hypothetical paper: totally relevant). Gilgamesh - though, again, not really a war novel as I think of the genre. There are men in Half of a Yellow Sun, and actually they are 2/3 of the viewpoint characters. But Olanna and Kainene are the heart of the novel. It's about what they do, and it's about their relationship, about how they live their lives differently. We never get inside Kainene's head like we do Olanna's, but she's nonetheless incredibly vivid (okay: she is my favorite character in this book).
2. One time, I was in the same room as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don't think I managed to communicate my crippling love through her using only my eyes, but that's the risk you run when you're too in love to speak, I guess. (I was sitting in the front row. "OH MY GOD DID WE JUST MAKE EYE CONTACT?!" was pretty much my constant mental refrain.)
"You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?" Aunty Ifeka said. "Your life belonds to you and you alone, soso gi. You will go back on Saturday. Let me hurry up and make some abacha for you to take."
4. On reread, I sort of think it picks up more after the war starts. I like the contrast, and I see why it's important, but I don't know if such detailed . . . hmmm, establishing was totally necessary. Maybe for Ugwu, it is the most necessary, and if only for that - his development as a person and character is amazing to experience - then it is justified.
"I do love the art. It was horrible of him to accuse me of disrespect." "And it's wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It's possible to love something and still condescend to it."
I mean . . . ! She is pragmatic and opportunistic enough to be more than an author's mouthpiece - and, let's not forget, quite a reserved, aloof, prickly character. But her constant skepticism is just what is required by the book's historical setting. We can sympathize with the characters and the way they are caught up in the events of their lives (right, that's how you live your life!) but there's a distance implicit in historical fiction, and Kainene's voice comes in at vital moments, undercutting every attempt at moral certainty. (There's a much more subtle doubt at work in Olanna's narrative which is equally interesting, but it would be kind of a spoiler to discuss it at length.)
2008: Purple Hibiscus was vaguely disappointing, so I was thrilled and amazed to read Half of a Yellow Sun. It's a wonderfully crafted book, even-handed and never sensational. Adichie has improved greatly, and I can't wait to see what she does next.(less)
I had to return this to the library before I could finish it, and have never been moved to pick it up again, although there are some good essays here...moreI had to return this to the library before I could finish it, and have never been moved to pick it up again, although there are some good essays here and generally I really like Forster's nonfiction. But - generally, I am the sort of reader who will just pay the late fees, and in this case I didn't think it worth it, so.(less)