September was a vacation month for us. What with travel by plane and train (no driving) and quiet evenings in the hotel room, I was able to do an unusual amount of reading.
Two by the New Zealand mystery writer, Ngaio Marsh, creator of Inspector Alleyn. Colour Scheme:It is wartime New Zealand and someone is suspected of signalling to the enemy. Night at the Vulcan: Young aspiring actress watches the scenes of a murder investigation. Marsh enjoys building his situations slowly — Inspector Alleyn often does not appear until halfway through the book. When he does appear, rational investigation is all.
John McPhee, Irons in the Fire. This collection of the writings of the prolific John McPhee includes pieces on cattle branding and rustling, forensic geology (do you know where this handful of sand or soil came from?) and recycling America’s millions of used tires.
Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives Tale. Those two old women — is it possible they were young once? Bennett gives us a humane, but wry, account of the lives of two sisters in industrial England.
Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation. The author of David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol provides an idiosyncratic account of his tour of the United States in the 1840s.
David Lodge, Therapy. Neurotic — but successful — television writer requires psychotherapy, physical therapy, aromatherapy and acupuncture to keep going. No neurotic is ever really cured, but he is helped by the rediscovery of an old love and a pilgrimage.
H. G. Wells, When the Sleeper Awakes. It’s the Rip Van Winkle theme, updated. Wells imagines the world a man finds when he wakes from a 200-year catatonic sleep. It’s not a good world, and the result of his struggles to change it are ambiguous.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. A classic detective story involving a missing jewel, a lovers’ quarrel and, ultimately, a murder. Echoes of Sherlock Holmes before Sherlock Holmes was created.
Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities. It is Vienna, 1913, and the Emperor Franz Joseph commands a disparate empire. We celebrate his success, but we do not know that war is coming, the Emperor will die, and the empire will be no more.
Connie Willis, Blackout. Three young Oxford historians use their time machine to drop from the 21st century into World War II Britain — a time of the evacuation from Dunkirk, the air battle for Britain, the London Blitz, and the fear of a German invasion. The historians know that the Germans do not invade, but they cannot share their knowledge with the “contemps”, the locals of that time. This book has a companion sequel, All Clear, so I expect to post on the two books together.
Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen. I enjoyed this warm and detailed biography of the author of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen was not the dried-up spinster some imagine but rather a bright but somewhat shy member of a large family. She fully participated in the lives of her parents, her sister, her brothers, their children and her many other relatives.