Today I unintentionally dressed myself and the small human in matching outfits. We’re at that point. Also the point at which I read trashy airport novels unironically and enjoy them enough to finish. Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is extremely silly. Told from the perspectives of the bridal party (and a few guests) at an exclusive wedding held on a remote island, it’s a murder mystery that is as easy to solve as it is hilarious in its dun-dun-dun finish to every. single. chapter. It is not at all good unless your basic criteria is a book that does not require any thought and is magical in its anticipation of its movie adaptation. Which, tbh, is a pretty compelling set of reasons for reading it in These Times. I am likely mere days away from putting flowered bows on the small human’s very bald head. Send help.
Category Archives: Mystery
Louise Penny and I have been on something of a Pandemic Journey. At first I was reading her mysteries because they were the only books that could sustain my focus (plot!) and give me some hope (Armand is so kind!) (even his eyes are kind!) and then I was reading them with guilt because shouldn’t I be done *needing* mysteries after month three of quarantine? And now I’m just in a place of delight. Like it’s delightful to me how much I enjoy the books, and the books are delightful in their coziness (sure with threats on life and murder and drama).
And this latest instalment in the Gamache series, All the Devils Are Here proves even more enjoyable for the departure from Quebec and the endless descriptions of the kindness of the villagers in Three Pines. Set in Paris, we’re offered something fresh in the setting, and something fresh in the plot through the involvement of the Gamache children. It’s an altogether delightful departure.
That said, the consistent inclusion of descriptions of rich and delicious food was appreciated.
If you’ve ever found yourself confined to a space – think airplane, waiting room, pandemic hideout, room-room – you’re familiar with how important high quality fiction can be for taking you out of that space, even while you remain physically rooted. I find myself in the unique (for me) experience of spending a little over a week in a smallish room that takes me six small steps to walk across. In my initial packing for this trip my suitcase was almost entirely dedicated to thick and heavy mystery novels. When S. pointed out that I might rather some of the real estate be given over to snacks and clean clothes, I scoffed. Wasn’t he aware that a new novel was worth several days of sink laundered underwear? Well. He persuaded me to put all these books on my tablet and – for the week – suspend my hatred of reading on screens. It’s too soon to tell who was right, but having removed the books and filling it instead with a yoga mat, I am *still* washing underwear in my sink, and so we were both (probably) wrong #marriagehacks
Anyway. So far – three days in – I’ve read a book (and refreshed my news feeds about ten million times): The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison (which now I’m thinking her first name must be part of the mystery?). It was okay? I feel like my sense of what is good writing has been completely obscured by my assessment of whether or not the book is sufficiently distracting. In this case it did well enough in that I read it in a day. Otherwise it’s pretty bland: rich white woman kills her husband in order to remain rich. I think the book tries to be interesting by layering on the rich white lady’s own complex psychology, but mostly it reads like a glossy magazine where everyone drinks expensive wine and has more than one couch.
The effort to be interesting piques with the back and forth narration between ‘her’ and ‘him,’ I suppose an effort to show how the murder is really a miscommunication – like had they been able to have full and honest conversations with one another then he might not have left and she might not have killed him (it’s not a spoiler btw to say she kills him – as much comes out on the first few pages). And what a warning for all of us in relationships (and aren’t we all in some kind of relationship) of the perils of avoidance, denial, deception and on and on. Like it’s so easy to just be honest. Or like honesty never got anyone in trouble.
Anyway. I’d hardly recommend it, but I wouldn’t scoff if you said you were planning to read it. A perfectly acceptable book for captivating your interest if you are stuck somewhere. Which isn’t the high bar I’d usually set for a novel, but then, here we are.
Some libraries are reporting the genres most read during this Moment, and no surprise mysteries and romances (along with kids books) are coming out on top. Something about an escape? Or a tidy resolution? Or a distance from reality? Whatever the reason, it’s holding true for me, too.
I tried – resolutely – to read More Serious things. I read 200 pages of Alice Munro’s For the Love of a Good Woman before giving up because while it was excellent writing and masterful storytelling, it was also too far removed. I started to think ‘inconsequential,’ but that’s not it – Munro’s stories do the genius thing of taking the particular individual and demonstrating how absolutely consequential one person, one action, one choice can be. More that the collection was so gentle in its context: small towns where gossip and betrayal were/are the worst there is to imagine.
So I pivoted. I thought I’d try another pandemic, in another not-so-distant time: AIDS under Thatcher in Alan Hollinghurt’s 2004 Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty. Again I committed about 250 pages (which was only about half) to this read, continuing to hope that the protagonist, plot or context would become compelling but… no. Something to be said for how HIV/AIDS hangs in the background, unnamed for the first 250 pages I read, but lurking for the reader in the present. Something marginally interesting in the relationship between the protagonist and his host family (he rents a room in the mansion of a Conservative MP), but in the end, neither protagonist or plot did much to inspire concentration or interest.
One more attempt in the form of Isabelle Allende’s City of the Beasts and here I didn’t make it past page 10.
So I gave in/gave up/admitted that what I most wanted to read was Louise Penny. I picked up How the Light Gets In and I read it in a day. Turns out that when the genre is distracting and absorbing and distant, I can still read. Phew.
And I want to read because despite my distraction, reading is mindful activity for me. Forget the hundreds of apps encouraging meditation, or the articles espousing focus and deliberate engagement with media, for me all I’ve ever wanted and needed for mindful activity is a book. To be fair, lately I’ve had to be sure to put my phone in another room, and I’ve never been able to read on a tablet or laptop as the lure of the Internets is too much for me, even with a great book. But put a physical book in my hands and I can – at least with the Not So Serious but Seriously Enjoyable – take myself away in moments of focus and calm.
So yes. I expect you’ll be Judging Me for what I read this summer. I’m just going to read what feels good instead of what I think I should enjoy, and what I very much do enjoy in other times. And I’m okay with it. For now.