söndag 10 maj 2015

Spring books

Why is spring such a difficult blog-writing month? I've been looking back at previous springs, and I wasn't over-zealous with the blog posts then either. What's strange is that there should be material enough. I've read my fair share of books, for instance. There's just not that much to say about them to fill up a whole blog post - or (more likely) I'm too lazy to think of something. A short summary of the few reflections I did have will have to do, then.

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham I read Allingham occasionally, more for the atmosphere than the crime stories. This one was big on atmosphere, set in the world of fashion with a notorious actress thrown in. It was enjoyable, though I'm not sure I'll ever care to reread it. One thing that shocks the modern reader is how Allingham's detective Campion's sister Valentine meekly decides to marry her errant beau after he has recovered from a bout of infatuation for the already mentioned actress. He doesn't apologise. ("I can't honestly say that I regret the experience. That woman has maturing properties.") What's more, his proposal is boorish in the extreme. "Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give your career, your time and your thought? That's my proposition. It's not a very good one, is it?" No, now you come to mention it, old chap, it isn't. Still Valentine, an intelligent, successful and creative fashion designer, says "Yes".

Now, given that the book was first published in 1938, is it anachronistic to mind this? Of course a woman would normally give up work then, assuming she had any, the moment she got married. Then again, perhaps there were plenty of people around who would have found Valentine's beau's proposal boorish even in 1938. Perhaps it's meant to be boorish. Perhaps Allingham, like a modern author might, is making Valentine's sacrifice so explicit in order to make a point about the nature of love. Old values and prejudices in old novels are always a challenge. One is tempted to be patronising either by handing out a general amnesty against sexism and the like because "people didn't know better then", or on the other hand by tut-tutting and measuring authors and characters from another time with modern yardsticks that would have bewildered them. It's difficult to know what to do. After all, some things are just plain wrong, and you would expect a reasonably intelligent individual from any age to recognise it.

Awful Swedish historical novel which shall be nameless  Now and again, I feel guilty about not reading more books in the Swedish language and set out to remedy this, mostly with some extremely light-weight read. I was unlucky the last time I tried. Ironically, the genre and general plot couldn't have been more right for me. It was a bodice-ripper set in late 18th century Stockholm involving Swedish nobility, star-crossed lovers, a forced engagement, balls, opera visits and even an English gentleman fiancé for the troubled heroine, who still loves her Swedish childhood sweetheart. Promising, wouldn't you say? But the plot is full of holes, the characters behave like children, and it is badly written. I always thought I was easy to please when it comes to Swedish prose style, but maybe it's the other way around and I'm actually more sensitive when it comes to clichés and unfortunate phrases in my mother tongue. Would I have reacted to a sentence like "Thank goodness for good friends, he gabbled silently to himself" in English? Well, I did in its Swedish version. What does the author mean by "gabbled"? The character's just making a simple statement of fact. You can't use a verb like "gabble" just to show that you don't like the person speaking, can you?

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James A well-written crime novel with a likeable heroine and set mostly in Cambridge. Could it be any better? We-ell... Funnily enough, I still prefer Christie to all the more recent crime writers I've tried, including P.D. James, and this time around I think I'm close to an answer why. I believe in Christie's murderers. I can see why the murders happen, and why they happen the way they do. James wrote with verve and wisdom, but she is too far distanced from the murderer's mind. We're left on the outside, still bewildered as to why a murder had to happen exactly then and exactly in that manner. And if you don't understand what's in the murderer's mind, then an important point with a crime novel is lost. Still, this is a readable book: Cordelia Gray is a resourceful heroine, and Dalgliesh makes an endearing appearance at the end.

Now, these comparatively slim three novels are not the only thing I've read all spring, but this will have to do for now. I might need the rest for another blog post later on.