Saturday, 14 December 2013

Winter novels

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg looking down at her old dress.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

I've never given a book away before so it's about time I did.  Little Women is a perfect Christmas read and you can almost feel the New England snow as you read it.  This is a new Penguin Threads edition which features hand-stitched cover art.  I'll randomly pick a name from the commenters on this post to receive an early Christmas present!

I would love to have visited Asia House in London last month to hear Amy Tan talk about her new novel The Valley of Amazement on a rare visit to the UK, but I couldn't get the time off work.  I've written before about my admiration for Amy Tan.  The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife and most of all The Hundred Secret Senses are some of my favourite novels.

Sadly The Valley of Amazement is not vintage Tan.  It gets off to a great start with young Violet Minturn growing up in her mother's Shanghai courtesan house at the turn of the 20th century.  Tricked into becoming a courtesan herself she is befriended and protected by Magic Gourd the sparky former courtesan who knows all the tricks of the trade and tells it like it is.  There are quite explicit details about the degradation of women in courtesan houses and their will to survive.  This part of the novel is very powerful but when the story moves on to Violet's mother and her history it becomes formulaic, overlong and the ending is far too neat.

That said, Magic Gourd, the ageing courtesan with a heart of gold is a wonderful character who reminds me of Kwan from The Hundred Secret Senses

Despite my aversion to 'weird twins' in fiction I very much enjoyed Curtis Sittenfeld's story of twins who share a gift for predicting dark events.  Sisterland is narrated by Kate who is married with children and tries to disown her gift.  The unconventional Vi positively embraces it and sets herself up as a psychic.  When she predicts an earthquake and becomes something of a small-town celebrity after appearing on the Today show, Kate whose husband works as a geological scientist and dismisses Vi's prediction as nonsense is deeply embarrassed.

Sittenfeld is particularly good on teenage angst and Kate's account of being invited to a slumber party at the age of 13 and messing around with a Ouija board which turns dark and ominous is very well written.  I won't give away the ending but I'll just say beware of October 16th!

2013 has been a great year for fiction.  Best of all was Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch of which more later.  Merry Christmas and see you all in the New Year!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Beginning The Goldfinch

 I do like a bit of superior chicklit and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones-Mad About The Boy certainly had its moments and made me laugh a few times but I have to say I was yearning to read something a bit more substantial by the time I got to the end.

My big autumn read is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  As I have not read The Secret History or The Little Friend I have no preconceptions about this writer but John Mullan's Ten Reasons why we love Donna Tartt's The Secret History from The Guardian a couple of weeks ago makes it sound very enticing.  I do like novels set in academia.

I'm about two hundred page in and it's very promising.  I liked the first chapter which is set in Amsterdam:
Outside, all was activity and cheer.  It was Christmas, lights twinkling on the canal bridges at night; red-cheeked dames et heren, scarves flying in the icy wind, clattered down the cobblestones with Christmas trees lashed to the backs of their bicycles.  In the afternoons, an amateur band played Christmas carols that hung tinny and fragile in the winter air. Donna Tartt The Goldfinch
I also loved the descriptions of Dutch paintings in a New York art gallery with 'peeled lemons, with the rind slightly hardened at the knife's edge, the greenish shadow of a patch of mold.'  The book has been described as Dickensian in some reviews and its central character has been likened to Holden Caulfield from J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye in others.  I'll reserve judgement until I've read it  and at over 700 pages I may be a while!

Anybody read The Secret History?

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Interestings

As soon as I saw the reviews for the new Meg Wolitzer novel I wanted to read it. I loved the idea of a summer camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods which is specifically for creative teenagers. 

The Interestings begins in the 1970s with a group of teenagers who are would-be musicians, artists dancers and actors.  Six form a close friendship and call themselves The Interestings.  The novel chronicles their lives to the present day   I do like a 'how they turned out' story. Of course, life doesn't turn out fine for all of them.  Some do very well creatively and financially, some jog along and one spectacularly screws up his life.

I particularly liked all the cultural references which I could identify with being of a similar age to The Interestings - bands like the B52s and Talking Heads, Indian cotton shirts and Levis.  The lives of The Interestings are also influenced by notable events such as the rise and fall of Nixon, the Central Park jogger rape case, the Aids epidemic and, of course, 9/11.

Julie Jacobson is perhaps the most intriguing character.  A girl who is not exceptional but finds her niche among The Interestings as they hang out in teepees at Spirit-in-the Woods engaging in adolescent fumbling and drinking V&T (vodka and Tang).  Julie becomes Jools - popular, funny and accepted.

The Interestings is a big substantial novel.  The sort of book you can lose yourself in and I found myself reading late into the night unable to put it down.  That's not to say it's perfect, there are one or two clunky phrases and a couple of times a character uses an expression I'm pretty sure didn't come from the era they were supposed to be in at the time, but those are minor quibbles. I would highly recommend this book and I'm glad to have discovered Meg Wolitzer. 

I've read some exceptionally good contemporary fiction this year.  As always, I prefer American women writers and I'm now reading The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.  There are new novels by Donna Tartt and Amy Tan to look forward to in the winter months and, of course, a new Bridget Jones novel by our own Helen Fielding.  Wonder how Bridget will cope with the Internet, blogging and Twitter?! 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Provincial Lady Goes Further

June 18th. Heatwave continues and everybody says How lovely it must be in the country, but personally I think it is lovely in London and am more than content.  
I've always said that the first volume of the Provincial Lady's diary is the best but I'm now going to Eat My Words because I've been re-reading The Provincial Lady Goes Further and finding it rather wonderful.

In this second volume the Prov Lady has had considerable literary success but this has not translated into very much cash and she is still tormented by her limited budget for clothes and the presents she would like to buy for the children.  She has however, rented a property in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, the heart of literary London, where she has time and space to write and can attend bookish events with 'dear Rose'.

Sadly, there is very little Lady B in this volume - she has moved abroad - but there is plenty of Our Vicar's Wife, Robert the undemonstrative husband, children Robin and Vicky and even Mademoiselle makes a welcome appearance.  Helen Wills is still around but thankfully has not produced any more kittens and Cook as usual has the last word.  There is also the scandalous Pamela Pringle who rings up in the middle of the night asking the Prov Lady to cover for her numerous indiscretions.

As always the Prov Lady is dissatisfied with her appearance but philosophically concludes that it is Useless to Struggle against Middle-Age.  She has no truck with  pretentious literary types and is quite capable of skewering sycophants with her wit.  She feels guilty about sending Vicky to boarding school and worries about Robin.  Her account of taking Vicky to half-term Sports at Robin's school and dissolving into tears when he wins a cup is very poignant.

As always I find myself fascinated with the details of 1930's England - Lyons tea shops, shampoo and sets, dresses made of delaine and tussore, Time and Tide magazine and rainy picnics.

I'm now re-reading The Provincial Lady in America.  Which is your favourite?

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Vic Lit and summer reading

As the debate continues regarding notable females on banknotes I would like to see one of our eminent Victorian novelists represented.  Elizabeth Gaskell or George Eliot or a Bronte, maybe.

I read the two contemporary novels on my 'summer' reading list as the rain beat against the window and the wind howled around the house!  I know some of my fellow bloggers loved Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs but I had some reservations.  I kept turning the pages and Messud writes very well, but I just didn't buy the premise that a mature woman would become besotted with a whole family.  Nor was I convinced that the work produced by the artist Sirena would attract the attention it did.  However the ending is good.  What you can see coming a mile off doesn't happen quite the way you think it will. 

Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette was much more my cup of tea.  I loved it.  It's the story of Bernadette Fox, former brilliant architect married to Elgie who is doing very well at Microsoft and mother to teenager Bee. Impressions of Bernadette are relayed via emails between her neighbour Audrey and her friend Soo-Lin who think she is aloof and anti-social. We know that all is not well with Bernadette from the secret emails she sends to a PA in India who organises her life so that she doesn't have to socialise. We learn that her architectural career came to an abrupt end and she spent many months in hospital with Bee as a baby.  A spectacular row with Audrey over some overgrown blackberry bushes precipitates a crisis for Bernadette.    There is also first person narration from the sweet-natured and academically gifted Bee.

I do like novels relayed via emails/letters/diary entries and the epistolary form works very well with humour (I'm thinking Diary of a Provincial Lady, obv!)  Both the Messud and the Semple are about what happens when a creative artist is stifled.  For me, the Semple was by far the best.

George Eliot's Adam Bede is next on my list - I feel a Vic Lit reading project coming on.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Round House

Mom had planted the pansy seedlings she'd grown in paper milk cartons.  She'd put them out early.  The only flower that could stand a frost. Louise Erdrich, The Round House
My local Waterstones told me they 'wouldn't be stocking' the new Louise Erdrich novel and would I like to order it?  Well no I wouldn't actually.  I took a trip to Blackwells in Oxford where I could actually pick up a copy from the shelves.   It was well worth the visit.  I think this is Erdrich's finest novel since Love Medicine was published in 1984.  If you are familiar with earlier works you will recognise the landscape, some of the named characters - Nanapush, Lamartines, Morrisseys - and the 1980s setting, but it works perfectly as a standalone novel.

It begins with 13-year old Joe and his father pulling up tree seedlings that have worked their way into the foundations of their house on a North Dakota reservation.  Wondering why Joe's mother is late home from work they decide she must have gone to the grocery store at Hoopdance and decide to drive out to meet her.  Suddenly Joe's mother drives past them, very fast, in the opposite lane.  They follow her home and when she doesn't get out of the car but remains sitting in the driver's seat staring ahead they realise that something is very wrong. 

Joe's mother has been the victim of a brutal attack.  Joe resolves to find out who did it, and although the novel has elements of a whodunnit or a thriller it is really, I think, a coming-of-age story.  Despite its harrowing theme and the examination of the legal issues surrounding attacks on Native American women, the novel is at times laugh-out-loud funny. I loved Joe's crush on his Aunt Sonja the Swedish ex- stripper with a heart of gold and the chase between furious Father Travis and Joe's friend, Cappy.  The novel's denouement, revenge and revelation had me avidly turning the pages and I didn't want the book to end. 

Litlove has an excellent review (as always) at Tales from the Reading Room

Sunday, 26 May 2013

American Classics

So much contemporary fiction from American women writers to look forward to this year. Claire Messud's new novel The Woman Upstairs will be published next week in the UK.  I spotted the new Elizabeth Strout The Burgess Boys in Waterstones last week and there will be novels from Curtis Sittenfeld (loved Prep) and Amy Tan.  Best of all, Louise Erdrich's prize-winning novel The Round House has finally been published here.  I'm reading it now and I'm woefully behind with ironing,  gardening and general communication with my family because I just can't put it down!

Talking of fine American writers I've just re-read The Great Gatsby.  My daughter, Kate, was going a little stir-crazy on study leave last week so we thought we'd go and see the new film.  Some critics have thought it over the top but as Rachel of Book Snob points out the novel is not exactly subtle!  Of course, seeing the film made me want to re-visit the novel with its fine opening sentence:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages you've had.'
Nick Carraway has always been my favourite character in The Great Gatsby and I thought Tobey Maguire played him very well and looked remarkably like a young F Scott Fitzgerald.  I'm also rather fond of Jordan Baker with her 'grey sun-strained eyes.'

What are your favourite American classics?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Harriet Vane

After re-reading Gaudy Night earlier this year I promised myself that I would read more of the wonderful literary detective novels of Dorothy L Sayers.  I'm rather fond of Harriet Vane who features in four of the books - Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon - so I'm starting with those.

Have His Carcase published in 1932 begins with Harriet on a solitary coastal walking tour.  As an independent young woman who writes detective novels, enjoys her own company and repeatedly turns down marriage proposals from the adorable Lord Peter Wimsey she is a character ahead of her time:
She was twenty-eight years old, dark, slight, with a skin naturally a little sallow, but now tanned to an agreeable biscuit-colour by sun and wind.  Persons of this fortunate complexion are not troubled by midges and sunburn, and Harriet, though not too old to care for her personal appearance was old enough to prefer convenience to outward display:
After finding a cove on the beach to sit down for lunch the hot sunshine sends her to sleep.  Upon waking she walks along the sand and is puzzled by an object on a rock a short way out to sea known as the 'flat iron'.  Upon close inspection it turns out to be a man's body with the blood still wet and the chilling suggestion that perhaps he was murdered while she was asleep.  Harriet is not the kind of woman who runs away screaming, instead she examines the body, tries to calculate the tides and searches for help.

I'm only about 100 pages in but very much enjoying it so far.  Do you have any favourites from the golden age of detective fiction?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Life Writing

Last month I went to beautiful Oxford to hear Paula Byrne talk about her book Jane Austen - A Life in Small Things at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival.  The event was held at the Blue Boar lecture theatre at Christ Church.  Paula Byrne spoke very well about Austen, her links with Oxford and also about the nature of biographical writing. 

With many books about Austen already in print and no new cache of letters emerging Byrne spoke about the necessity of finding a new approach to her subject.  Instead of a traditional 'womb to tomb'  biography she chose to focus on meaningful objects in Austen's life including the topaz crosses, a card of lace, an East Indian shawl, vellum notebooks and a bathing machine.

While Byrne's book worked very well I'm not so sure about Jane Dunn's Daphne Du Maurier and her Sisters which I've just finished.  It examines the lives of the three Du Maurier sisters, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne.  Angela wrote novels and Jeanne was an artist and although their lives were interesting I really wanted to read about Daphne.  This book has its moments though and the presentation and photographs are excellent.

I think my favourite literary biographies are Valerie Grove's Dear Dodie (life of Dodie Smith) and Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte.  What are yours?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus is the story of five nuns setting up an order in a disused palace high in the Himalayas.  The house has a dubious reputation, only Ayah remains there and she says nothing.  Sister Clodagh is in charge, attractive and capable, it gradually emerges that she became a nun after her Irish sweetheart did not want to marry her.  Sister Philippa tends the garden, Sister Briony runs the dispensary, Sister Honey runs the lace school and Sister Ruth teaches the local children.

Mr Dean the English agent has spent many years in India and provides the carpentry, maintenance and building design for the nuns as well as offering practical advice which the nuns often choose to ignore.  Whether it is the high altitude of the Himalayas or the bad reputation of the palace something begins to affect the nuns.  Sister Phillipa becomes obsessed with ordering plants for the garden, Sister Clodagh keeps reliving her past in Ireland, Sister Honey yearns for a child of her own and Sister Ruth can't keep her eyes of Mr Dean.  Only Sister Briony remains the same.

Sister Ruth is a fascinating character.  Young and vulnerable, there is a suggestion that she became a nun after suffering some sort of mental illness.  She has glittering green eyes and is nicknamed the Snake-Faced Sister by Ayah.  She is convinced that Sister Clodagh likes Mr Dean and is bitter with jealousy.  Rumer Godden builds a tense, simmering atmosphere and events come to a head when a woman brings a dying baby to the dispensary.  Sister Honey tries to help the baby despite being warned by Mr Dean never to treat a dying child.  Sister Ruth then goes looking for Mr Dean ...can't say anymore or it will give the game away! 

Rumer Godden wrote Black Narcissus on the upper birth of a ship travelling from India to England with her baby in the bunk below. She was just 32 when it was published in 1939.  It bought her money, fame, success and unhappiness, too.  You must read it.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Mad Girl's Love Song

I do like a good literary biography and Andrew Wilson's account of Sylvia Plath's early years Mad Girl's Love Song is a very good biography with lots of intriguing detail.  This book should really be read alongside The Bell Jar as many of the events in the novel are autobiographical and the account of the first suicide attempt is particularly harrowing. No doubt, Plath was a tortured genius but there is light and humour in this biography

For example, on a trip to New York with boyfriend Richard Sassoon, Plath's suitcase is stolen from his parked car and some of her favourite belongings are taken - a blue cashmere sweater, a number of poetry books and her Chanel No 5.  When this is reported at the police station she becomes fascinated by the whole procedure and later composes the poem Item: Stolen, One Suitcase.

The book ends when Plath goes to Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship and meets Ted Hughes.  I was left with a couple of lingering questions.  What happened to Eddie Cohen the young James Dean lookalike who kept up a long-term correspondence with Plath and acted as an informal critic of her work?  He seemed to be a voice of reason in her tumultuous life.  I also wondered why Plath seemed to dislike her mother so much. Aurelia was a highly intelligent woman who raised her children alone after the death of her husband.  She worked as a shorthand tutor to pay for their eduction.  There is a suggestion that her self-sacrifice created a constant sense of obligation in Sylvia which caused her resentment.

I now want to read a biography which covers the latter part of Plath's life and also some of the collections of her poetry if anyone has any recommendations.  I feel a reading project coming on ...

PS These jute bags by seasalt are very handy for lugging around heavy biographies!

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Bell Jar

A couple of weeks ago Radio 4 serialised excerpts from Mad Girl's Love Song a new biography of Sylvia Plath's early life by Andrew Wilson.  I found myself completely drawn in and I've bought the book to read.  I've also just re-read The Bell Jar which has been re-issued with a controversial new cover for its 50th anniversary. 

A high-achieving nineteen year old spends a summer in New York working as a journalist on a magazine.  One of several young women selected as fashion interns, Esther Greenwood is taken to parties, galleries and theatres, given clothes and gifts and is expected to appear in photo shoots and at luncheons.  Esther's experiences with men, alcohol and a bout of food poisoning exacerbate her inner conflicts about the possibilities and limitations for educated women in the 1950's. 

On her return from New York, failure to secure a place on a writing course triggers a descent into mental illness and harrowing 1950's treatment for depression including electric shock treatment.  One doesn't usually associate Sylvia Plath with humour but I liked Esther's dark sarcasm:
The movie was very poor.  It starred a nice blonde girl who looked like June Allyson but was really somebody else, and a sexy black-haired girl who looked like Elizabeth Taylor but was also somebody else, and two big, broad-shouldered bone-heads with names like Rick and Gil. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath.
The Bell Jar is a great modern classic.  Yes, it's dark but sometimes we need to read about life as it is.  What do you think?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

More Tyler

The time Pauline got lost in her own alley and the time she confused the brake with the accelerator and the time she backed into a pedestrian, knocked him down, stuck her head out of the window, called, "I'm sorry!" and pulled forward, put her car in reverse, backed up and knocked him down again. The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler's last novel The Beginner's Goodbye is now out in paperback.  I bought it in Sainsbury's for the princely sum of £3.49.  Rather nice to put a great contemporary novel into your basket alongside your milk, bread and yoghurts!

That's the thing about Anne Tyler.  She is a writer who is both complex and yet popular enough to be stocked in your local supermarket.  I've just read The Amateur Marriage which I think is one of her finest novels.  It's the story of Pauline and Michael, a couple who should never have married.  There is no domestic violence, adultery or debt - the kind of things that often tear couples apart - but their marriage is toxic nonetheless and the novel examines the relentless grind of being married to an unsuitable partner.

Michael is thrifty, cautious and calm.  Pauline is emotional, impulsive and sensitive.  Like Maggie in Breathing Lessons and Muriel in The Accidental Tourist she can be infuriating but I found her a far more likeable character than cold fish Michael.

The novel spans several decades beginning in Baltimore's Polish community where Michael grows up, becomes engaged to Pauline and enlists.  After being injured in the army they marry and raise a family.  Their marriage is put under further strain by the disappearance of their wayward daughter.  The implication is that she has joined the 1960's Haight-Ashbury 'summer of love' community and developed a serious drug problem.  This theme of the novel reminded me a little of Unless by Carole Shields.

Eventually Michael leaves Pauline and finds (rather too quickly I thought) the kind of cool, self-contained woman who suits his character.  The final chapter comes as a surprise and I'm still thinking about it, but there are hints that Michael still yearns for Pauline.  Vintage Tyler.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Real Jane Austen

 Whenever a new biography of Jane Austen comes along I'm on it like a car bonnet! Particularly if it illuminates aspects of the novels I'd not thought about before. Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen - A Life in Small Things has some very intriguing interpretations of Mansfield Park.

Byrne's theory that Tom Bertram, eldest son and heir, who is not romantically interested in women, or marriage and is fond of theatricals may be homosexual is not conclusive, but it is an interesting interpretation and of course, if he never has children Fanny and Edmund may inherit Mansfield Park.

The suggestion that Mrs Norris is a kleptomaniac because of her eagerness to whisk away the green baize curtain to her own cottage is backed up by the well-documented scandal in Austen's own family where her aunt, the wealthy Mrs Leigh-Perrot allegedly stole a card of lace from a millinery shop in Bath and faced jail, deportation or the gallows.

I knew the business with the locking and unlocking of gates at Sotherton was sexual imagery but I'd never before thought that Maria's stepping outside of the cultivated garden into the wilderness with Henry Crawford foreshadows her own 'ruin' when he seduces her.

This book has made me want to to re-read Mansfield Park and that is the best recommendation for any new biography of Jane Austen.

By the way, there is some very amusing and perceptive Austen criticism on the wonderful Bitch in a Bonnet blog.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nordic Noir

I've been reading Norway's 'Queen of Crime' Karin Fossum while the snow falls outside.  She writes psychological crime fiction and her novels feature Inspector Konrad Sejer a grey-haired senior detective with a kind heart and steely determination.  In Don't Look Back Sejer investigates the death of a young woman whose body is found by a Norwegian lake. She is lying so peacefully with her face close to the edge of the water she could almost be asleep and someone has thrown a coat over her body as if to keep her warm.  I liked the close-knit small village atmosphere and the descriptions of the Nordic pines surrounding the lake.  Occasionally a sentence or word jars a little and I suspect that something has been lost in the translation but this is an exciting read with an unsettling twist on the final page.

I then read Bad Intentions about the apparent suicide of a teenager.  Sejer is unconvinced by the statements of his friends and when an artist painting at Glitter Lake inadvertently discovers the body of another teenager events begin to fall into place.  Call Me is also about a teenager with a fondness for macabre practical jokes and a pet guinea pig named Bleeding Heart!

I have to say that I raced through these books but after spending so much time in the company of thieves, liars, perverts and murderers I began to think about an interview I read with Anne Tyler in The Guardian where she was quoted as saying 'there aren't enough quiet, gentle, basically good people in a novel.'  I'm enjoying my foray into Scandi-crime, but I'm not sure it is a genre I could read exclusively.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Gaudy Night

I spent Christmas racing through the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I'm now compiling a tbr list of Scandi-crime from your suggestions.  Thank you so much.  I've temporarily moved from the seedy underbelly of Stockholm to the dreaming spires of Oxford to re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.  Published in 1935 Gaudy Night is part of the golden age of detective fiction.  It is highly enjoyable but it has dated and some of the snobbish references to 'common shop girls' can grate.  However, I think if you read a lot of early 20th C fiction you do have to keep a sense of time and place.

The main premise of the story is that detective writer  Harriet Vane visits her alma mater, Oxford University for the Gaudy Night celebrations.  While she is staying there someone sends poison pen letters to staff and students and acts like a deranged poltergeist at night.  The female dons ask Harriet to help them discover the 'poltergeist's' identity without too much adverse publicity for the college.  Harriet agrees but soon finds the situation beyond her and calls in her old friend Lord Peter Wimsey.

I loved the descriptions of Oxford, 'students dashing to lectures their gowns hitched hurriedly over light summer frocks', the porter's lodge stacked with bicycles and punting on the Isis.  Sayers is wickedly funny on academia and there is a long running joke about Miss Lydgate's epic work History of Prosody which always needs just one more footnote.

The actual crime element is pretty slight.  The novel is really about the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet and the dilemma of intellect versus domesticity for women.  I did enjoy it though.  Did anyone who has read it find the business about the dog collar absolutely bizarre?