Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading Roundup: Tales from Across the Pond

According to my "recently read" shelf, I unintentionally took a literary trip across the pond, hopping from Scotland to England for these two imports. They're not exactly Jane Austen, but at least they still serve afternoon tea.

The incomparable Maisie Dobbs—do you know how difficult it is to get a hold of this book from the NYPL? I was on the wait list for an embarrassingly long amount of time! I first tuned into this series after seeing some promotional pieces in a publisher's booth at a library conference (can't remember which one). I love a good series, so I immediately put myself on the hold list, having no idea it would take so long. (At this rate, I will move out of New York before even getting to book 3.)

At the story's opening, we learn that it's London in 1929, and Maisie Dobbs has set herself up as a private investigator, following in the footsteps of her beloved, and retired, mentor. Most of this book, though, tells Maisie's backstory—her humble beginnings as a housemaid, her unconventional education, and her nursing experience during WWI. Though the series has fallen into the Mystery genre, this one was more historical than mystery, as Winspear painted an elaborate backstory to the character we'll follow for many more books down the road. You get a good grasp of English society post-WWI and come to understand how unique Maisie is as a woman with a profession. I think this will be a fun, light series. I probably won't remember them all in detail, but I'll enjoy reading them.

Jane Gardam's Old Filth—not about a dirty old man, instead an old lawyer who Failed In London, Try Hong Kong; our protagonist has lived quite the international life. Old Filth (a nickname, of course) was born to an Englishman in the Eastern Empire, turned "Raj" orphan once his mother died, but "saved" by a missionary and shipped back to England. There, he jumps from place to place, never fully connected to a family but funded by his absent father. University leads to law; law leads to Hong Kong; retirement leads back to England, where Old Filth never feels fully settled.

My book club read this over a year ago, and I had purchased the book but was unable to attend the meeting. The Book Club Member Whose Opinion I Trust really liked this book and thought I would, too...but I found it just ok. I liked the overall structure of the story, in that it was like storytelling on why this part of his life affected that part of it and affected who he is now. I keep reading how the story is very Dickensian, though, and based on my limited experience with both this book and Dickens, I would have to agree. Normally, I really like character-driven stories, but maybe my tastes are changing a bit; I find it hard to really like such a book if I don't have very strong feelings for the character in it. And that's how I felt about our Old Eddie Feathers; he was just kinda there. I chuckled at some incidents and sympathized with him at others, but overall, I wasn't head-over-heels compelled by his story. But many many others disagree with me, so maybe it's just me. The Man in the Wooden Hat is Gardam's follow-up—which I have that on my shelf—so maybe I'll try that one out, too.

No comments: