The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Mar 21, 2013

Under 200, Part 9

If you want to read claustrophobic, cloying, simpering novels about little towns where everyone is sugary and cat-loving and laugh delightedly and discuss Shakespeare and Byron and behave with a courtly mien, you can do no worse than to check out Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who Went Bananas. I do not encourage you, mind. A misplaced sense of charity on my part forces me to admit that this may be among the weaker books in her long series. I have read it in a rage. The language is awful, the conversations are filled with exclamations, there are cats at every turn, and the main character Qwilleran (Qwilleran! That name alone should have been kicked out of him in his youth) would take a minor prize for mansplaining. The women love him! How could they not? He is supposed to be well-read, well-spoken affectionate, empathetic and rich, and I wouldn't mind chucking the pompous ass into a nearby lake. 

This is the kind of writing that permeates the book:
'They called me a half hour ago. It was inevitable. But now that it's happened, I'm in shock! I don't know how to deal with it. We were like sisters.'
'Just cry, Maggie. Tears are a great healer, so don't be afraid to cry your eyes out. When you can cry no more, you'll feel a great calm, and then you'll think of a way to honour [...]' memory.'
'You're right, Qwill. That's exactly what Jeremy would have said.' Her voice trailed off, and he thought he heard a heartrending wail before she hung up.
His advice was based on experience, and he knew it would work.
I'm in tears.


I'm a bit unlucky again in my choices of genre fiction in my alphabetical razzle-dazzle tour of the shelves. Another painful book I had to contend with is Judith Cutler's Silver Guilt. This stars a young antique dealer-in-training, Lina Townend, an illegitimate child of a Lord Elham fostered by a gay man who calls her 'my sweet one' and 'light of my life'. Although the novel (again, one in a series) is set in the current century, the attitudes of hoi polloi are positively medieval. There is much tugging of forelocks and curtseying before said Lord (as effete and ineffectual as you might want, although an expert forger), and considerable snobbery and class division, and there are men, both young and middle-aged, who have the hots for our impetuous Lina. Lina, once upon a time a feral child, has not had much schooling but we are assured by various characters who appear in the book that she is very smart and bright. She narrates the story in a strange mixture of knowingness and ignorance and lack of vocabulary. Perhaps the traumas she faced as a child affected her brain? I'm no expert. The plot, such as it is, is secondary in this book - it reads more like an extended narrative piece on the antiquities business and associated fraud. A rather tediously written journalistic piece, with some unreal conversations and stiff descriptions. Cutler is (was?) a secretary of the Crime Writers' Association and has published several other crime series, but as to how popular they are, I do not vouchsafe an opinion. On the merits of this book, I will not revisit this writer.


To cheer myself up, I looked at Mervyn Peake's whimsy-filled travelogue titled Letters From A Lost Uncle. The illustrations (by Peake himself) are worth the price of the book. An Uncle, a long-term explorer and unsuccessful adventurer (if lack of success is determined by his lack of fame), is somewhere near the North Pole in search of the mystical White Lion. He is accompanied by an assistant-cum-porter, Jackson, who is a melange of a tortoise and a man. He decides to write letters to a nephew he has never seen, hoping to explain his lifelong travel-bug and fascination for distant lands. In his pithy and humorous writings he reveals the quiet desperation with which he seeks his greatest prize. If only he were able to discover the White Lion and take pictures of it, his fame would be eternal. And so he staggers through blizzards and blunders across bleak landscapes and he writes his letters. 

I think I'll show my boy this one.



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