tisdag 23 juli 2013

Unexpected ripping yarns

Summer holiday! Meaning not much blogging, and mostly about books. Shiny new costume dramas are seldom launched in the middle of the summer (though Swedish television has started  sending The Paradise now) – in fact, few of  them get launched at all. I was in London for a few days and caught one of the episodes of The White Queen, which seems to be as good as it gets just about now. It’s a thrilling story, and the women were feisted  up convincingly, but the dialogue was very portentous, and always about politics. I kept half hoping for Elizabeth Woodville to say something like “Oh, and when you go, would you mind taking the trash out?” to her husband Edward after one of her morale-boosting, you’re-the-king-for-us-speeches. OK viewing, and the viewpoint is thankfully Yorkist, but it doesn’t beat one of the good old bonnet dramas of yore. As for the one remaining HMV store in London, the pickings were meagre. The closest I got to a costume drama there was buying an adaptation of Gormenghast. I remember testing it for about five minutes when it was aired on Swedish television and finding it silly, but potential villain-crush candidates don’t grow on trees nowadays. By this time, I’m ready to stand a great deal of fantasy nonsense for a sighting of one. (I’m not against fantasy in itself, but it is a tricky genre.) 

On the other hand, I bought a load of books in London – it doesn’t look like I’m going to do much reading in Swedish this year. I started with light reads, then when I came to the second-hand bookshops I was more ready to be ambitious and optimistically go for books like Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child (well, when it’s only 4 pounds…). Probably, the Ambitious Book Projects will turn out to be the most worthwhile ones, if I ever start on them. The hunt for the Perfect Light Read sometimes feels like the hunt for a white unicorn.

One of my best reads lately was, in point of fact, bought as an ABP, at least partly. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones takes place in a dilapitaded country house roughly during the Edwardian era (the exact year is never stated), but it has not been touted as a country-house-during-Edwardian-era novel. Reviews have instead highlighted the Tales of The Unexpected angle of the book. As far as I know, the D word has not been mentioned by either marketing people or reviewers.

Sure enough, the Tales of the Unexpected angle was well handled, if not as unexpected as all that. But the book is also a highly satisfying miniversion of a country house drama. There are the spoilt, dark-eyed, attractive youngsters in their twenties, one boy and one girl. There is their eccentric, artistic younger sister. There is the  grande dame of the place with a few shady sectrets, the housekeeper who knows more than she’s telling, the self-made potential rich suitor for the daughter, the good-girl friend and her brother, who has grown up surprisingly handsome… All in all, a promising cast to spring the nasty surprise of a bunch of third-class (supposed) train-crash survivors on. A man from first class must be accommodated as well; at first, he seems the easiest to assimilate, but he turns out to be creepier than all the third-class folk put together. There’s a lot coming-of-age to be done all round, and lessons to be learned, but there is also a great deal of straightforward romance. Recommended.

I’ve now started on Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – one of those ambitious four-pound-buys – and it really is a ripping yarn. Admittedly, I have long been deterred from testing Sarah Waters by sheer prudishness. I thought – and believed my impression to be confirmed by the good but somewhat overly racy adaptation of Tipping the Velvet – that there would be more lesbian sex and shenanigans in Waters than there actually is. And man-free raciness really is wasted on me: I prefer a bloke or two to be in on the action (actually, the woman is more optional). In fact, raciness is thankfully absent – the only sex scene so far being more touching than graphic – and the problematic relationship between the two female protagonists has the universal quality that I believe the author was aiming for. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Fingersmith continues to be good, in which case I’ll have found a new source for great reads, and by a prestigious author too. I’m still not sure about ever trying Tipping the Velvet, though.