Thursday, February 5, 2009
2/5: Literary Addictions
It's very odd to have a writer whom one really, really likes, but whom one is almost positive no one else will enjoy. There's a mystery author whose very old books our library has who fits the bill, but he only wrote about 6 books and I can't remember his name (he's Australian??) The author who's my chief private addiction is one Angela Thirkell, author of perhaps 30? 50? novels, mostly set in the small English region of Barsetshire amongst the various families, villages, and groups of upper-crusty denizens. She wrote from the early 20's to her death in the mid 60's, I think, and for some reason I adore her books. She does have some of the Jane Austen about her: she writes deliberately small plots, with the staging of a party or the foiling of some minor but unwelcome plan for some village the major plot line of the book. She does not throw sudden deaths or horrible shocks at her readers, and she's very smart and funny in her indirect tone (another Austenism, actually). Reading Thirkell also helped me understand the impact of WWII on English society in a way I hadn't before: her immediately pre- during- and post-war novels are her strongest and most touching, especially since, as one reviewer pointed out, they were written pretty much at that time, without the benefit of knowing "this is the last summer of the war" or "Hitler really is a threat." So for social insight, she's wonderful. However, she is a snob--her attitude toward non-British citizens and toward the Other Classes is that they are all very well, but they must know their place and stay there. In addition, she can dither at times: her sentences (helped, I must admit, by the very poor copyediting of the editions I've been reading) often ramble, convulse, rush off at odd angles, require numerous rereadings to untangle. And, finally, she can be incredibly indirect: sometimes everyone at a dinner party is caught up in a memory of a song that the reader has never heard of, but the song is never acutally mentioned nor sung, so the reader is paralyzed. Her endless references to "Bab's Ballads" during a certain span of her books, her unapologetic Englishisms, and, more damningly, her occasionally baffling plot twists that leave one hanging at the end of a 400 page book can all be infuriating.
I love her books. I wish I had every one on my shelves, so I could read them through and then start again.
My latest Thirkell, Happy Returns,
is a perfect example of why most people, I think, would hate her writing. The opening 100 pages dragged, even for me. The whole book involved getting two babies born and two sets of people engaged or married, and it was mighty. slow. going.
But now that I'm done, I'm at loose ends.
I might have to reread one of my other Thirkells. What can I say? It's an addiction!