Sunday, March 31, 2013

{misc.} easter greetings

I hope everyone is having a peaceful and happy Easter, 
and has found plenty of time for some reading.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

{review} miss pym disposes

You know, you're happily reading other book blogs, and you suddenly think, Bloody Hell [you always preface sudden thoughts with that phrase in Australia ;-)], when did I last blog a book myself?, and you realise that it was nearly a month ago. And, yet, you've been reading like a crazy thing. Bad blogger. So, what have I been reading? Well, re-reading, in this case:

    

Josephine Tey Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
Lucy always noticed other women's legs, her own being a sad disappointment to her.
Miss Pym Disposes is a re-read for me, after I read 20th century vox's great review, with her excellent comparison to Gaudy Night. I love Tey's books - I was hooked as a teen when my English teacher gave me A Daughter of Time to read alongside our class text of Richard III. I love her quiet, almost actionless detective stories. (I will say at this point that I did not greatly warm to the first Nicola Upson book featuring Tey as detective.)
Half-past five, said the watch. Half-past five! Miss Pym stopped breathing and stared in unbelieving fascination. No, really, did any college, however physical and hearty, begin the day at half-past five! Anything was possible, of course, in a community which had use for neither bedside tables nor bedside lamps, but-half-past five! She put the watch to her small pink ear. It ticked faithfully. She squinted round her pillow at the garden which was visible from the window behind her bed. Yes, it certainly was early; the world had that unmoving just-an-apparition look of early morning. Well, well! Henrietta had said last night, standing large and majestical in the doorway: "Sleep well. The students enjoyed your lecture, my dear. I shall see you in the morning;" but had not seen fit to mention half-past-five bells.
Lucy Pym has written - somewhat to her own surprise - a best-selling book on psychology. She travels to an exclusive girls to give a lecture as a favour to the headmistress, with whom she went to school. The school is unusual - it grooms young ladies for careers related to physical activity and the sciences - future doctors, physios, games-mistresses, etc. Miss Tey's lecture goes down a treat and she is persuaded to stay on to do a little light mentoring and socializing with the girls.
They stood there on the gravel looking up at her, smiling. That was how she always remembered them afterwards. Standing there in the sunlight, easy and graceful; secure in their belief in the world's rightness and in their trust in each other. Untouched by doubt or blemish. Taking it for granted that the warm gravel under their feet was lasting earth, and not the precipice edge of disaster.
The book is wonderful in a number of ways: first up, Tey's writing is a complete joy. Then there is the personality of Miss Tey - a little insecure and flighty, thrilled that she has made enough money to live comfortably instead of as a school-mistress, in love with fashionable things, and, really, not that good a psychologist when plunged headlong into mysterious happenings. Her witty, catty inner voice is a delight, as she reworks what she sees into a more or less plausible (and, perhaps more or less reliable) narrative.
Lucy's capacity for doing nothing was almost endless, and had been the despair of both her preceptors and her friends.
And, of course, there's the actual crime, which doesn't take place until one has completely given up on there ever being a crime. The tension is evoked so beautifully that one almost hopes the inevitable will never happen. How will Miss Pym dispose? (The title's allusion to Thomas à Kempis' 'Man proposes, but God disposes' hints at the futility of judging others, even when the judge has written a bestseller on psychology.)
She could never get away from that other half of herself. It had sent her into fights with her knees knocking, it had made her speak when she wanted to hold her tongue, it had kept her from lying down when she was too tired to stand up. It would keep her from washing her hands now.
Or will it? Find out for yourselves!

Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

{come visit & be...} lost in the stacks

 

Danielle has been kind enough to feature my library 
on her excellent blog A Work in Progress


Please do pop over for a look and a chat.

(I didn't do any dusting at all!) 

Monday, March 4, 2013

{review} lazarus is dead

Richard Beard Lazarus is Dead (2011)
Mary and Mary, the mother of Jesus and the sister of Lazarus. The number of Marys in the bible can seem clumsy, and a fiction writer would have edited out the confusion – the mother of Jesus and the sister of Lazarus (and also Mary Magdalene) should have different names so that readers can tell them apart. In fact there are two Marys for a simple reason: the sister of Lazarus is named after the mother of Jesus, and as a clue to her character the Mary connection is useful – the Lazarus Mary is a younger version of the Virgin Mary, and equally devoted to Jesus. Before too long, she will be washing his feet with her hair.

I'm very late to the party with this book. I LOVED IT. I really wish I'd written it. Not about Lazarus, but – precisely because Beard's format so well suits any semi-archetypal, quasi-historical figure – about Aesop. I'll say more about that. 

This is a deliberately 'clever' book, and I liked it for how blatantly it advertised that fact. Literary allusion, lit. crit., biblical history, art history, basic epidemiology, and fictions of academic rigour are interwoven through the narrative. It is a startling book, with its metafictional perspective on its own dubious factuality.
With Lazarus, but also in many other fields, innovative discoveries can be made by trusting the historical human imagination. Admittedly, reconstructions have to be revised as new imaginative records become available, but biographers should stay faithful to the patterns that consistently emerge.
Lazarus is Dead examines the back-story of the death and resurrection of the biblical figure of Lazarus, stripping and embellishing, renovating and restructuring the slight gospel references into a fictional biography that simultaneously explores the place of the Lazarus miracle in the 'historical' Jesus narrative. I am by no means a New Testament scholar, and have no idea whether the fictional narrative's conclusion - that Lazarus is part of Jesus' 'practice' of the miraculous that leads to the final miracle of Jesus' own resurrection – has been offered up (albeit not in such a playful manner) in serious biblical exegesis. It may be a little on the blasphemous side for some readers.

Lack of firm knowledge about Lazarus is a tremendous boon to Beard's fictional reconstruction. As he writes, "We… have no direct access to Lazarus's version of the story". We know little apart from the gospel reference, and one thing that made me smile about this book was how Beard does a pretend academic work-over of the material at his disposal. So, no ancient evidence?
These are the sources other than the bible that can enlighten the biography of Lazarus.
...
The question about when Lazarus befriended Jesus is partially answered in a book by the Portuguese novelist and Nobel prize-winner José Saramago. In The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), Saramago identifies a moral flaw in the popular story of the nativity...
This "evidence… extrapolated from salvaged memories and insights" is so playfully, easily, reflexively postmodern - it almost gives one a pain.
Thomas Hardy rhymes Lazarus with cadaverous, and the Swedish Nobel prize-winner Pär Lagerkvist, in Barabbas (1950), conveys an accurate impression of how Lazarus must have appeared to contemporary observers.
Or:
I can therefore say with confidence that today, on the morning after the first miracle performed by Jesus at the wedding in Cana, as Lazarus sets out for Jerusalem with Absalom and a couple of selected lambs, he is probably clean-shaven. In any biography, which is an attempt to bring someone back to life, the facts will generate patterns of evidence. There is a coherence to the visual memory of Lazarus: in the portrayals that survive, mostly paintings made between 1300 and the end of the eighteenth century, Lazarus is consistently free of facial hair.
The other neat trick played by the narrative involves bringing Lazarus back into the Jesus story. He is minimalized in the New Testament, but his foregrounding in the fictional recreation - particularly through an childhood bond with Jesus - brings out how much of a shadow-Jesus role he can play as the one who goes first, the test-case as it were: so, Beard's Jesus is "learning his lesson from Lazarus, dying in the open in front of witnesses, a verifiable public death."
Christians usually interpret Lazarus as a prefiguring of Jesus, who is Christ. This is the purpose of Lazarus's life, for those who believe in his literal existence, and his narrative function in the bible for those who don't.
Lazarus in a 6th century AD mosaic from Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. Source.

Lazarus-the-man is not terribly appealing. He smells dreadful, and "[h]is life is ordered, successful, unusual; he has no need of enlightenment". But he is terribly human and fallible, and it is his humanity that is so central to the book, and brought out as an effective foil to an inhuman (in a number of senses) Jesus.
Perhaps he'll thank Jesus warmly for all he's done. But, now he thinks about it, he might also suggest that Jesus could have come earlier, or stopped him from falling sick in the first place. It seems churlish to complain, but every first word he imagines saying is 'but'.
Apart from Lazarus, a number of other characters stand out. I would single out Cassius, the Roman sent to sort out what sort of danger is posed by Jesus' miracles. Cassius is not a believer in miracles; he thinks in terms of utility - and about how "compellingly staged" are the miracles: "He decides what Rome needs and then makes it happen." The Romans appreciate good stage-management. What use can he make of Lazarus? Will Lazarus survive death only to lose his life in a Roman prison? Or will Lazarus be the Jesus the Romans need?
'If we do kill you we'll do it properly,' Cassius adds, sensing that at last his words are having an effect. He pushes on. 'Death the Roman way means crucifixion, and no one comes back from that.'
'Please. I haven't broken any laws. Not that I know of.'
'I was there at the tomb. I saw what happened.'
'So what did you see? Did I come back from the dead?'
'In some ways, for your sake, I hope so. If you're lying then the penalty for false witness is death.'
'The penalty for everything is death.'
'That's justice for you...'
I loved this book. It will definitely be on my list of best reads of the year. It is so rich and imaginative and funny and playful (and brutal, stomach-turning and occasionally utterly horrifying). It is a remarkable fictional commentary on historical interpretation.
At some stage, and this is equally true for the historical Jesus, we must avoid a preoccupation with attempts to establish factual propositions. The evidence about Lazarus is fragmentary, and may have been misinterpreted in the two thousand years between then and now.
*  *  *
(And, my reference to Aesop? I haven't felt so stimulated by a book about the gospels since I read Frank Kermode's The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. I read this as a PhD student trying to unravel the multiple narratives surrounding Aesop, the fable-writer, who can be regarded as another more or less mythical figure (like Beard's hero), and who was also the topic of fictional biographies, the motivations for and sources of which are far from transparent.)

{READ IN 2017}

  • MARCH
  • 23.
  • 22.
  • 21.
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]