Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Devices and Desires

Every so often, the Big Questions arise. Why am I living? Why do squirrels exist? How on earth have I failed, in the first 28 years of my life, to read any P.D. James?

I like a good literary novel as much as the next girl (OK, probably more than the fabled Next Girl, who, as far as I can divine from the advertising directed her way, is a bible-thumping shopaholic mom on a diet.) But I also like mysteries. Especially British mysteries. Especially British mysteries with a literary tinge.

And I missed P.D. James?! This is a travesty. The only upside I can see is that I now get to read everything she's ever written all at once, in a kind of murderous binge. The lady is old. And prolific. Hooray!

Like all good genre artists, James exploits the tension between narrative thrust and literary divagation. Or, to put it another way, between bones and flesh. She's not above rapid advancement of the plot:

"The Whistler's fourth victim was his youngest, Valerie Mitchell, aged fifteen years, eight months and four days, and she died because she missed the 9:40 bus from Easthaven to Cobb's Marsh."

But neither does she shy away from dipping deeper, from tarrying over detail or losing herself in speculation:

"He thought: In youth we take egregious risks because death has no reality for us. Youth goes caparisoned in immortality. It is only in middle age that we are shadowed by the awareness of the transitoriness of life. And the fear of death, however irrational, wa surely natural, whether one thought of it was annihilation or as a rite of passage. Every cell in the body was programmed for life; all healthy creatures clung to life until their last breath. How hard to accept, and yet how comforting, was the gradual realization that the universal enemy might come at last as a friend."

Also, there are many gratuitous descriptions of landscapes, baked goods, and caffeinated beverages, which I take as a clear exhortation toward tea.

1 comment:

Mara said...

Thanks for the tip! I will try some of her books. I get my reading material from this English library run by a church, which has a small collection kind of like what you'd find in a used book store, so I'm glad I have something new to look for.