måndag 8 september 2014

On a Beauman bender

I'm a bit impressed by my 2013 and 2012 selves. How did I manage to produce 3 blog posts in this, the cruellest month work-wise (or at least one of them)? September is survival month (as is October, for that matter), and that has its effect on TV and book consumption as well. I tend to stick with what I know I like, which means there's not much difference in my reading/TV watching pattern from one week to the next. And that in turn means fewer blogging themes.

This autumn has been extreme, though. TV-wise, I'm completely hooked on a Danish series from 2000 called Rejseholdet in its original language (no, me neither), Mordkommissionen (The Murder Squad) in Swedish and Unit One in English, and I watch little else. More of this at another time, I expect: suffice to say, for now, that it features both Lars "Höx" Brygmann and Mads Mikkelsen, playing - as it happens - perfectly decent coppers. Book-wise, I'm reading through the back catalogue of Sally Beauman. Well, when someone writes a trilogy, it makes sense to read all the books in a row, right?

I have to confess, though it really is her "early work", that I still like Destiny and Dark Angel best. Beauman is a master storyteller, and the epic family saga is the ideal showcase for her. The Language of Love is also a family saga, but it is shorter than the early novels and considerably more melancholy, as the focus of the story is a grim tragedy (far worse than the admittedly bloody end of Shawcross in Dark Angel: honestly, even I, villain-lover that I am, thought he had it coming). The ending, though not suicide-inducing, does not have the same uplift as Destiny's and Dark Angel's either. The Language of Love feels like an attempt by Beauman to move upmarket and show she can do more than just feelgood stuff (not that everything is peaches and cream in the early novels). I must admit I prefer cheaper markets.

The Lovers and Liars trilogy from the 90s, by contrast, feels like a move downmarket compared to Beauman's two first novels. These books are a mixture of romance and thriller, and the genres do not gel a hundred per cent. The first novel, called Lovers and Liars (I wonder who thinks of Beauman's titles? They sound a bit publisher-fabricated) centres on a supposed sex scandal, which is a passably juicy theme, but novel two, Danger Zones, introduces plot-lines about drugs and a disturbed youth who absconds with impressionable adolescent girls - not that fun, in fact. Novel three, Sextet, starts promisingly, though, as it's set in the world of film.

The common denominator in these books, aside from the thrillerish tone, are the protagonists, journalist Genevieve "Gini" Hunter and photographer Pascal Lamartine. These ex-lovers meet up after fifteen years to work on a story in novel one. Does the old love linger? Wanna bet? A complication in the form of features editor Rowland McGuire, who is an almost ludicrous compilation of supposedly attractive male qualities, appears in novel two, where Gini's friend Lindsay also starts to play a larger part in proceedings. Sextet seems to focus more on Lindsay than on Gini so far, which is good news, as Lindsay is the more likeable character. A fashion editor, she is warm, rueful and not as full of her own importance as Gini, Pascal and occasionally Rowland. These three share a belief in journalism - and in Pascal's case, photography - as something that can make the world a better place. I'm not sure I don't find idealistic hacks more of a pain than the cynical just-looking-for-a-good-story ones. The idealists are almost as ready to print dirt about someone, only they will also moralise about their victims in a way the cynics don't. Granted, though, that once in a while an idealist can be made to stay his or her hand when a cynic would push ruthlessly on.

So far, I remain somewhat unconvinced by the trilogy's thriller element - yes, there are exciting scenes, but thriller plots aren't what Beauman does best. The solutions to the mysteries in Lovers and Liars felt a bit throwaway, when you thought you'd get a well-reasoned explanation of various intrigues. At the end, it almost became a conspiracy theory thriller. I prefer Beauman's epic tales - which doesn't mean I don't enjoy the Lovers and Liars trilogy very much. But next time I read a Beauman, I hope it's a family saga - and a not too sad one.