I don’t have a copy of Rowling’s book obviously, because the official publication date isn’t till tomorrow, but Pagford rings a bell, because I recently reread Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon.
Sayers (1893 -1957), one of the first female graduates of Somerville College at Oxford, a scholar, a linguist, a translator of Dante, a playwright, an essayist, a poet, and a theologian, was the author of 11 Peter Wimsey mysteries.
Her brilliant sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, is an oenophile and Oxford graduate who sports a monocle, has infinite charm and money, and tricks information out of people by acting silly.
When is a genre book not a genre book? When it is a Dorothy Sayers mystery that also seriously attempts to explore the complex nuances of relationships between men and women: affection and indifference, camaraderie and courtship, love and loathing, and the structures of new and old marriages.
Busman’s Honeymoon is the strongest of the four Peter Wimsey novels featuring Harriet Vane, the mystery writer he fell in love with when she was accused of poisoning her lover (Strong Poison). He courted her through Have His Carcase (Harriet finds a dead body on a hiking vacation) and Gaudy Night (Harriet investigates poison pen letters at Oxford), but didn’t succeed until Harriet saw other women at Oxford falling for him.
Corpses have always come between Peter and Harriet. She was understandably reluctant to marry an amateur detective. So what is Sayers saying when, in Busman’s Honeymoon, the couple stumbles upon yet another corpse? Bunter, the valet, finds the body in the cellar of the country house which Peter has bought for their honeymoon to please Harriet, who grew up in the area. Is Sayers trying to say their sex life not as fabulous as Harriet implies? That death separates them? (Isn’t “Death” one of Wimsey’s many names?)
Sayers’s dazzling prose, fascinating characters, and humor combine to make a rambunctiously entertaining novel. Her love scenes fail, but I admire the witty repartee.
And the form is innovative.
The first 20 pages, the “Prothalamion,” is an epistolary experiment that reveals in bits and pieces in the form of documents, letters,, and journal entries the fact of Peter and Harriet’s marriage. Peter has very much annoyed his sister-in-law by pretending he would be married on one date in Hanover Square , and then dodging over to Oxford to get married on another date to fool the reporters. His mother, though, is very much pleased.
Then the novel becomes a traditional 3rd-person narrative, but it is still more than a whodunit.
Who killed Mr. Noakes? Was it Miss Twitterton, his niece? Mrs. Ruddle, the housekeeper? Crutchley, the gardener?
We do end up caring, as Sayers brings these urban and country characters to life.
FAVORITE BOOK REVIEW/PROMOTION PUBLICATIONS. In light of Sir Peter Stothard’s tentatively bipolar (and I usually LIKE bipolar) fulminations against book bloggers, I have decided to mention some of my favorite, slightly less traditional book publications. Call it solidarity, call it occupy, call it what you will.
First, my entire blogroll.
Second, BookPage. BookPage is a free monthly book review magazine–actually a book promotion publication–you can pick up at the public library. Although the reviews are never very critical, BookPage highlights new books by genre, and it is the one of the best quick guides to what’s out there. I even like the ads.
Third, Blogging for a Good Book. This excellent blog from the Williamsburg Library in Virginia publishes five well-written reviews a week by various staff members. The reviews are very interesting, and cover all genres.
Please add your favorite book publications in the comments. I have come across some great ones over the years, but don’t always remember to bookmark them.
WHAT I GOT IN THE MAIL I cannot buy any more books for the rest of the year if I want to buy Christmas presents.
And please, publicists, don’t mistake this for a plea for new books. I am trying to live a simple life-style here.
But two interesting books came in the mail this week, which I scouted and ordered from my favorite bookstore, Amazon.
William McPherson’s Testing the Current. I had to buy a second used copy after my old copy fell apart a few weeks ago. I am fascinated by this novel about an eight-year-old boy’s view of his upper-class family and neighbors on the verge of World War II. Summers on the island are bucolic, Christmas in his midwestern hometown is magical, but McPherson is never sentimental, and we are aware of darkness in the margins of the child’s life. There is also an excellent description of a chemical plant: if you’ve ever visited a big factory like this, you’ll be awed. This is a classic. NYBR is reissuing it in November.
I can’t wait to read this!