This past weekend I finished reading The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers. It is one of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and it was, of course, an enjoyable read. I seem to be gravitating to an awful lot of mystery stories this year. I guess it is no wonder because with the world in such chaos, I need a good detective book to take all the broken bits and puzzling clues and finally bring everything to a satisfying end. As my friends at the Literary Life podcast have pointed out in the past, mystery novels move from disorder to order, so they have a way of reassuring us that justice and right will win at last.
Anyway, back to the story at hand… This story is, I believe, the fourth book in the Lord Peter series, so it still comes rather early in his sleuthing hobby/career. However, Lord Peter is a keen observer and judge of human character. His task at first seems relatively mundane, to try and pin down the time of death of the elderly general who was a member of the Bellona Club in order to help settle a dispute over the man and his deceased sister’s estates. Quickly, however, Lord Peter (and the reader) become convinced that some foul play may have had a hand in bringing about the old man’s death. In the end, Wimsey is able not only to solve the mystery of whodunnit, but his suspicions about the murder’s motives prove correct as well.
If you are not familiar with Sayers’ detective novels, you may be interested to know that they are set in post WWI England and often deal with the cultural repercussions on the Great War on British society. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a good example of this. The story begins in the middle of Armistice Day festivities, and both of the General’s grandsons are also veterans of the war. One of them was partially disabled by toxic gas and also was suffering from shellshock (now known as PTSD.)
This book fulfills the “Classic with a Place in the Title” category for the Back to the Classics Challenge. That means I just have three more titles to read in order to check all 12 categories off my list! Yippee!
I seem to be on a roll with the heartwarming family stories here lately. Today I’m writing a review of Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren. This book fulfills the category of a “Classic in Translation” for the B2tC Challenge and the “Book by a Minor Author” for 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. The edition I read was translated beautifully by Evelyn Ramsden.
This gem of a book was written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, best-known for creating the character of Pippi Longstocking. But Lindgren was actually quite prolific, writing many children’s series, dozens of stand-alone novels, and even some screenplays.
Seacrow Island was the most recent book I read aloud to my son each night before bed, and we were both rather sad to leave the island and the Melkersons at the end. In this book Lindgren tells the story of a family who rents a summer cottage in a small island community. At first it seems like the arrangement might not work out, but the Melkersons quickly fall in the love with the island, the cottage, and more importantly, the people who are their neighbors.
The widowed father, Melker, is somewhat of a bumbling artist type, but he loves his children fiercely and does his best to provide for them and make them happy. His eldest daughter Malin fills the role of both mother and sister to her three younger brothers. She is both responsible and somewhat of a romantic, not to mention lovely. Her brothers have the goal of keeping boyfriends away at any cost. Johan and Niklaus are closest in age and seldom seen apart in any adventure. Pelle, the youngest boy, is an incurable animal lover and something of a young philosopher. These, along with their island neighbors, form a delightful, colorful cast of characters. Seacrow Island is a story full of the joy of the everyday, as well as the love of family and friends.
If you are in the market for a light, hopeful story with just a bit of whimsy and adventure, as well as lovely prose, I highly recommend Seacrow Island.
If you are looking for some light fiction that is also written in sparkling prose, My Family and Other Animalsby Gerald Durrell is the book for you. I really cannot say enough good things about this read. It was sheer delight.
The book begins with a family of four children and their widowed mother tired of their humdrum average British life. On a whim, they sell their house and move to the island of Corfu and rent a house sight unseen. The story is told from Gerald’s perspective as the youngest brother, describing his family with a loving touch, though each member has his or her definite shortcomings. He strongly focusses on his intense fascination with the natural world as well as the curious cast of characters in this island community. Durrell relates his anecdotes in a such a humorous way that many times I frankly laughed outright. My husband gave me the side-eye more than once while I was reading before bed, tee-hee.
Also, I feel like I must mention that I am aware of the TV series loosely based on this book, but after watching some of it when I was finished reading, I would strongly recommend you skip the show and go straight to the book. The TV version doesn’t even seem to the be about the same people, really. They took the names and places and twisted Durrell’s optimistic, funny and uplifting family comedy into a somewhat dark, depressing and dysfunctional family drama. But that is just my two cents. If you loved the TV show, maybe you will like the book, too. In fact, you might like it even better!
Last Sunday I had the great luxury of several hours in which to read entirely for fun, and in that time I finished Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories. This book is a truly enjoyable collection of little self-contained mysteries, each in one chapter, all cleverly solved by the unassuming and unlikely character of Miss Marple.
The elderly spinster has a keen mind and a rather uncanny ability to relate seemingly mundane happenings in her small village to crimes on a larger scale. This combination of sleuthing super-powers never fails to take those around her by surprise, given her quiet, calm and old-fashioned demeanor. Perhaps the best thing about this collection of short stories is that you can read just one chapter and have a complete mystery posed and solved, which is perfect for light bedtime reading when you don’t want to stay up all night!
I originally started reading this book because it was the only collection of short stories I had on my physical shelves, and I needed one for the Literary Life 20 for 2020 Challenge. But I later realized it would also fit in the “Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title” category for the Back to the Classics Challenge. So I’ve got both those boxes checked since I finished it!
P. S. – To read any and all my other reviews for the B2tC challenge so far, just click the tag below for “book reviews“!
Over the weekend I had the entertaining experience of listening to an audio dramatization of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. This comedic play was first performed in 1895, and it is a hilarious satirical commentary on Victorian social customs, especially regarding love and marriage. I chose this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge, and it also fills the Satire spot in The Literary Life 20 for 2020 challenge. (They will be going through this book on the podcast very soon, so I wanted to get it read before then.)
The version I listened to was done by LA Theater Works, and it was a delightful performance. There is hardly a really serious line in the whole play, but the actors delivered their lines as if all was deadly serious, which made it even more hilarious. I could totally see how Wilde’s work in this play paved the way for P. G. Wodehouse, especially in the opening scene with the banter between Algernon and his butler/valet. It definitely reminded me of Bertie Wooster talking with Jeeves. Then, of course, there is the Shakespearean element of mistaken identities causing problems between lovers, which is always entertaining.
Some people would perhaps find the situation unbelievably over-the-top silly, but I think that is what makes Wilde’s commentary work so well. He makes some serious jabs at social conventions, but it is done in such a ridiculous manner that you can’t help but laugh. Of course, if I were in Wilde’s original Victorian era audience, maybe I wouldn’t have thought it quite so funny as I do as a modern!