tisdag 7 augusti 2012

Holiday bubble

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a proper four-week Swedish holiday would give one more time to blog, instead of less? Not so – the days are just dreamily flowing away, while I attempt to do as little as possible. A long-planned journey to the south of England (I’ll be avoiding London and Heathrow because of the Olympics crowds) suddenly seems a major project. Fortunately, watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel put it all in perspective somewhat.

While on the subject of the Olympics – wasn’t the Opening Ceremony great? Ooh, how I loved those Victorian factory-owners/engineers in their smart suits and top hats, headed by a Kenneth Branagh who was obviously having the time of his life. And those chimneys plunging out of the ground! And the molten iron Olympis Rings! “Pandemonium”? Looked more like heaven to me.

Of course, it was a misrepresentation of history to show pre-industrial Britain as an idyllic place where sheep gambolled about and the sweet rustics had all the time in the world for a game of cricket. The population worked from dusk until dawn and starved in pre-industrial times. With friends like me, though, serious champions of the Industrial Revolution hardly need any enemies, because I can’t help being fascinated by the mythical, sinister way – call it “villain chic” – in which the industrial age is depicted by its detractors. It may not be fair to all those 19th-century men and women (tons of them) concerned with making life easier for the Noble Working Man. But it’s a lot more fun than some balanced, complex view. Shut up, Noble Working Man, and put up another chimney.

My reading has hardly been ambitious since the holidays, or even before then. A Weekend with Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly fulfilled my need of an uncomplicated happy ending after Through a Glass Darkly. I wasn’t sure about Matt Rees’s Mozart’s Last Aria at first – I couldn’t quite warm to the novel’s narrator, Mozart’s sister Nannerl, who’s looking into her brother’s apparently suspicious death. However, things picked up when a love interest and a suitably formidable minister of police made their entrance. The ending was satisfyingly twisty, there was a terrific character-shows-his-true-villainous-colours-scene, and you’ll be glad to know that poor maligned Antonio Salieri did not do it. In fact he wasn’t even in the frame. The most page-turning holiday read so far, though, was Revenger by Toby Clements, a thriller set in Tudor times and featuring decent spy John Shakespeare (brother of William). The baddies (an increasingly alarming hoodlum and a magnificently foul-mouthed arch-enemy) were rougher than I’m used to but contributed to making the book a cracking good read.

Right now I’m half-way through Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, and I must say I’m a bit disappointed this far. I confidently expected the crime plot to be a whodunnit with Pride and Prejudice characters as the suspects; sadly, though, the novel is more of a police procedural. The victim is not, as we are first led to think, George Wickham but his comrade-in-arms Captain Denny, and Wickham is the chief suspect. But apart from him and possibly Colonel Fitzwilliam (whom James plainly does not like), the Pride and Prejudice characters all have comfortable alibis: the coppers won’t be asking Lady Catherine to help with their inquiries any time soon. Thumbnail sketches of the harsh-but-fair magistrate and the medical expert prove more vivid than the Austen characters. A family of servants is introduced and will probably have some bearing on the case, but though I like Upstairs Downstairs-dramas, I must confess to having zilch interest in this plot-line. If Wickham and/or Denny has caused some domestic upset in the servant household and this proves to be the explanation of the murder, then why drag Pemberley into it at all? The book could in that case just as well have been about another regency estate altogether.

As I enjoy James’s usual prose style, I also thought it unnecessary of her to use a vaguely Austenesque style for this novel. It’s elegant but not as pithy as Austen, and I think it sould have been wiser to use the tried-and-true Jamesian psychological-crime-story-style. The crime story seems to take precedent over the sequel element anyway.