Books of the Week:
- Jane and Prudence, A Few Green Leaves, An Academic Question, An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
- The Cat and Bones books by Jeaniene Frost
- Indexing, Seanan McGuire
As you can see, I continued my Barbara Pym binge. There are minor characters who pop up in many of the books, and they are fun to meet over and over; and some of the main characters from a previous book also are glimpsed in later books. Pym is at her funniest and most honest when she reveals peoples’ true reactions to the same events. I wonder how she saw the future of her most unlikely couple, Ianthe Broome and John Challow. Pym books are a series of small delights.
The Cat and Bones books are far steamier fare, but they’re written with style and verve and an attention to being true to character. Many, many people have enjoyed this series about Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her vampire lover, Bones. I could never stand Cat’s mom, Justina, and I’ve always had issues with her, but the irony of her becoming the thing she hated most – a vampire – and then being such a good one, is not lost on me. From being a damaged child and an endangered teenager, Cat becomes the strongest woman around, which is absolutely satisfying. I’m still reading the earlier books before I read the last one in this excellent series.
Indexing, which Seanan McGuire originally presented chapter by chapter, proved hard for me to get into at first. McGuire is a mistress of world building, but I had only a tenuous grasp of this one in the opening of the book. McGuire gives us a world in which fairy tales come true over and over, where a small task force must keep the narrative contained to avoid the general populace being swept up in the consequences. Or simply to keep it secret? I wasn’t sure. The main character, Henrietta (Henry), is a potential Snow White, and her muscle, Sloane, is a potential Evil Stepsister. Like all McGuire books, there are touches of humor and not a little suspense and outright fear, as Henry gets caught up in a place where all the previous Snow Whites are trapped in a snowy wood. Any McGuire is worth reading!
Isabel Allende, originally from Chile and now living in San Francisco, is a bestselling literary author. I know many, many people who admire her intensely, and I am sure this is deserved. By all accounts, she is a great writer. But as far as the mystery community is concerned, she put her foot into her mouth in a major way.
She thought she would write a mystery “as a joke.” Though I don’t want to put words into Allende’s mouth, to me this translates: I’m so amazingly ‘literary’ that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny.
This is a quote from her NPR interview:
“The book is tongue in cheek. It’s very ironic … and I’m not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. … And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”
There are a lot of factual errors in this statement. There are quite a few mysteries with young protagonists (can you say “Flavia de Luce”?) There are many, many mysteries that do not have promiscuous thin women as protagonists. And most mystery protagonists are NOT bad people. They are driven to solve problems, to seek justice, to right wrongs, to save the innocent. Admittedly, they may do bad things in the course of achieving their goals. But many do not. In limiting herself to bestsellers, Allende left untouched a huge body of work that would have informed her vision more fully: because the mystery genre is ALL about redemption.
Allende’s book is Ripper, and before I read the interview, I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don’t think I will. So, am I coming down too heavily on Isabel Allende? As a writer who’s been misunderstood a lot(!), maybe I should have more tolerance for her poor choice of words. And probably, after a week, I’ll just shrug and forget it. After all, it’s not like my opinion will make any difference to Isabel Allende. But I still don’t think I’ll buy the book.