Friday, 7 September 2012 16:08
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Partners in Crime, by Agatha Christie.

A short story collection linked by an overarching plot featuring Tommy & Tuppence Beresford, whom I am incredibly fond of - the format worked, better than it did in The Big Four. It was a really delightful partnership! Sometimes Tommy wins, and sometimes Tuppence wins, and sometimes you think Tuppence wins when really Tommy does, and it's all very silly and twisty and parodic. Stuff I liked: that they got bored, that they jumped at the chance to take on a covert assignation and literally play at being detective (such puppies!), and that neither of them are really on top of the game yet, so they don't reach superhero levels of brilliance. They're just really likeable, I think. ♥

Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie.

Classic Poirot - Hastings is incredibly dense, and Poirot has foibles. For some reason, that was literally the only thing I can remember from this book. So, uh, cool, but not very involving, I guess?

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Gah, I loved this - Charmain is exactly my kind of heroine, by which I mean 'spends far too much time lounging around reading and being useless but also knows it and is delightful anyway', and also her biggest ambition is literally to be an archivist at the Royal Palace. Nerrrrd! Also, the way DWJ writes not-perfect families is just perfect:

"It's not that I'm lazy," she explained to Waif as they arrived in what seemed to be the stables, "or stupid. I've just not bothered to look round the edges of Mother's way of doing things, you see."


"What do you mean by tidying up my room?" Charmain demanded.

Peter looked injured, even though Charmain could tell he was full of secret, exciting thoughts. "I thought you'd be pleased," he said.

"Well, I'm not!" Charmain said. She was surprised to find herself almost in tears. "I was just beginning to learn that if I drop something on the floor it stays dropped unless I pick it up, and if I make a mess I have to clear it away because it doesn't go by itself, and then you go and clear it up for me! You're as bad as my mother!"

Some days, DWJ, your grasp on the psychology of the child kills me.

There were also some moments in here that made the lubbocks genuinely terrifying - the bits, I think, to do with lubbocklore and childbirth. Howl's appearance was also great, though I'm not sure how that would have read to someone who wasn't acquainted with the earlier Howl books. Predictably but no less satisfyingly, I now ship Peter/Charmain hardcore, DWJ probably did too.

They Do It With Mirrors, by Agatha Christie.

This was surprisingly hard-edged and one of those Agatha Christie mysteries that come out of nowhere and swallow you up, in the sense that they're not typical in terms of motive and the twist genuinely smacks you in the face as a revelation. And of course Agatha Christie here is super conservative in her treatment of delinquent youth and adopted vs. biological children, but here's the thing: I'll give it her, she always makes her insights feel surprising and worldly:

And though Mildred might have been lucky and taken after the Martins who had produced handsome Ruth and dainty Carrie Louise, Nature elected that she should take after the Gulbrandsens who were large and stolid and uncompromisingly plain.

Moreover Carrie Louise was determined that the adopted child should never feel her position and in making sure of this she was overindulgent to Pippa and sometimes less than fair to Mildred.

Having typed this out I have two things to say about it, actually: 1) This is so clearly Miss Marple's voice, it's her speaking in here, and a lot of the time what she has to say is taken as true, but here the underlying subtext is, it's still Miss Marple indulging in exposition, in a way that shows how her worldview is constructed. I have a lot of rambly thoughts about the way the detective novel, on Agatha Christie's terms, is set up as a little world which has been put out of joint and must be ordered again, and how the detective both gets to narrate and make sense of it all, but is still a character, that I will have to articulate properly sometime. And it's in passages like these that I think you can see the join. 2) And also Christie is such a witch sometimes with how thoroughly unsentimental she is: here Mildred is given a sympathetic background, but she's also the most comically unlikeable character there is, it's so great!

And also, here:

But Grandam just said, "Mildred." And Aunt Mildred said, "Mother." And they went away together into the house, Grandam looking so small and frail and leaning on Aunt Mildred. I never realised, until then, how fond of each other they were. It didn't show much, you know.

And also the whole character of Carrie Louise Serrocold and how she's such a good example of how Christie undercuts gendered stereotypes and makes her subtext so much more threatening than her text. God, Christie!

ONE LAST THING THAT WAS DELIGHTFUL: the idea of Miss Marple meeting two American sisters in her youth at a finishing school in Italy. Dear Miss Marple! ♥

Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Not as tightly-constructed or (travesty) well-written as DWJ at her luminous best, but the premise of this was just so charming that I didn't mind. Although to be fair, I think I just have really high standards for novels incorporating English folklore & Renaissance mythology & Shakespeare, which this did? So while I did enjoy the idea of counterparts, I didn't think that the fairies et al were as cool as they should be in my head, there's just something about faeries that makes me want to wave my hands around talking about sinister and creepy power and strange attraction in a way that is not wanky at all.

That might be purposeful - here the classic fairies vs. mortals balance of power doesn't really apply because this is yet another universe where magic is a Thing That Happens, which I quite like. I always find DWJ's worldbuilding kind of hard to grasp, though, and here's a book that was published in 2010 that has Paul Buying A Computer A Big Event. DWJ inexplicably loves to go for "this is just normal England except with magic and also somehow more old-fashioned". But why?

Currently reading: Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I have somehow become a person with Opinions on how urban fantasy should be done, apparently. /o\
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