Monday, December 22, 2008

An Incomplete Revenge and Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading

I'm thrilled to have completed the fifth in the sterling Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear, titled "An Incomplete Revenge."
I must admit the previous two novels, Pardonable Lies and Messenger of Truth were slightly dissapointing to me, mainly because Maisie was spiraled into a deep depression and wasn't acting like herself at all, especially in Messenger of Truth. Thankfully, this newest novel is classic Maisie Dobbs, enthralling and full of fascinating characters, including the peripheral characters like Billy that we've come to know and love in the past books. Incomplete Revenge finds Maisie embroiled in a mystery in a village in Kent with a dark secret, and, spoiler alert, we learn of her gypsy heritage, which explains her sensitivity with people and ability to get them to tell her the truth. Maisie's shell-shocked former amour dies, which by now is a relief, and Billy and his family are taking steps to recover from the horrible death of their youngest child. The novel is set in the 1929-31 depression, and the people of England are still feeling the aftershocks of losing so many young men in The Great War (WW1). Maisie has recovered from her malaise, and takes on her challenges with vigor and good humor, as well as her trademark common sense and sensitivity. The case unfolds in due course, and Maisie manages to set things right with the village and mend her bridges with Marcus as well. The prose is elegant and the pace of the plot deliberate but sedate and unhurried, allowing the reader to savor the setting and characters of the England of a simpler era. I highly recommend this book to those who appreciate a brilliant female sleuth who doesn't simper or pout or constantly fuss about the men in or not in her life.
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan was a bit of a surprise to me. I was expecting a running commentary on all the books Corrigan has read and delicious snippets of prose that would send me salivating to the nearest bookstore. Alas, such was not the case. Leave Me Alone is riddled with that dry and academic critical analysis of books that tends to leave undergrads snoring on their books in the college library. There are some paragraphs on Corrigans life as an only child in an Irish Catholic family in Queens New York in the 50s and 60s, which is interesting, but readers are only given so much of an insight into Corrigans life before she switches us back to the boring commentary on how this or that genre connects to another and why....yawn. She focuses on the hard boiled mystery genre of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, the "extreme adventure" novels that involve women, including Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters works, and tales of Catholic martyrs and secular saints. Other than the classic literature of Jane Austen and the Brontes, I am not really interested in hard boiled detective stories, nor do martyrs interest me, really, so 2/3 of the book was lost on me. I did enjoy Corrigans all-too-brief discussions of her adoption of a Chinese orphan girl, her unique insights (they're really quite odd, which amazes me as I've read other commentary on Austen and the Brontes and Alcott, and Corrigan manages to find the original thought in a haystack) and her sense of humor about teaching and finding time to read all the millions of books that land on her doorstep (I don't have a lot of pity for her there, as I wish that would happen to me!). For others who are bibliophiles, I imagine more than a few of them would find the book interesting, especially if they're of Irish Catholic heritage from NYC. Those of us who are middle class, middle of the country WASPs, though, might find some chapters a bit tedious. As a commentator on NPR, Corrigan has learned to create clean and brisk prose, which keeps the book from lagging. I give Leave Me Alone a 3 of 5 stars for pimping the classics, if nothing else.

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