Book Review

Books in Brief: Hardy, Sayers, & Ten Boom

I’ve written about about these authors before, and yes, they are delightful and entertaining. Today I’ll offer a few thoughts about a different book from each.

Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Just finished Hardy, moving onto Lefebvre

Because I loved Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, I decided to give another one of his novels–The Mayor of Casterbridge–a shot. (Thank you, Michelle, for the recommendation. It was well worth the read.)

I was hooked from page 12 wherein Michael Henchard, a dissatisfied and poor hay trusser in early nineteenth-century England, sold his wife at a refreshment tent at a country fair. Indeed, Henchard was hasty and drunk. Consequently, his wife was only glad to depart with an obliging sailor, who purchased her for five guineas.

Now that’s a beginning to grab one’s attention, for I was mighty curious to see just how this book would turn out. It was quite a rollicking ride for a Victorian novel. Oh, but nothing too scandalous, mind you. (Did I mention it was the early 1800s?)

This book reminded me a bit of George Eliot’s Silas Marner–what with people disappearing (think of Dunstan’s drowning and the sailor too) and little girls being raised by other more capable men (think of Silas Marner raising Eppie, and then the sailor in this book raising Elizabeth.)

But really, I was disappointed in the end because I wanted more. I would have liked an account of Mr. Farfrae’s fickleness. Really, the man was attracted to Elizabeth, but then was easily infatuated with Lucetta, only to return once again to Elizabeth. Just how did this change come about, I wonder?

The good thing about this book, and most Victorian novels that I’ve read, is that the good or virtuous characters, while experiencing hardships, are generally rewarded in the end. Conversely, the bad characters are given their due as well. In this case, Elizabeth experiences much persecution from Henchard, but with her quiet humility, she rises gloriously. Henchard, however, dies a lonely man.

Dorothy Sayers: Clouds of Witness

From Victorian novels to detective fiction, here we go. I do love variety.

Now, if you have not read a Dorothy Sayers crime novel, you are missing out. Do start with Gaudy Night, then follow up with Busman’s Honeymoon, for Lord Peter Wimsey is quite a dashing sleuth in those novels.

I’ve heard from somewhere, probably the Literary Life Podcast, that C.S. Lewis admired Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey because he was the only sleuth to have ever evolved throughout his fictional career. I mean, to have grown and developed into a more admirable man.

And it’s true. In Clouds of Witness, which was written prior to the Harriet Vane novels above, we see a more carefree and flippant Wimsey, than in Sayers’s later novels.

Because of that, however, and because there are allusions to complicated marital affairs, I wouldn’t recommend this book for immature audiences. For anybody else, however, this book is hysterical. Sayers is bitingly critical of communism. She’s continually pointing out its contradictions and follies, especially through the Duchess of Denver–my favorite character. (She’s the mother of Wimsey.)

You know, this is what sets Sayers apart from, say, Agatha Christie. Sayers has a way of developing her characters and cunningly using them to speak about something else. In this book, it’s communism. She’s brilliant.

I’ve enjoyed the Agatha Christie novels that I’ve read too, but the Christie novels have a completely different feel. It seems to me that her novels are more concerned with solving the mystery and restoring order than commenting, say, on the medieval theology that built beautiful churches complete with bells and bell choirs. (I’m thinking of Sayers’s The Nine Tailors.)

Corrie Ten Boom: In My Father’s House

Yes, another Corrie Ten Boom book. Really, if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, then I’m not sure what you’re doing wasting your time on my blog. Go get that book.

Since The Hiding Place was an incredible read, I thought I’d pick up her prequel, In My Father’s House. This short book is filled with lovely photographs, about Corrie’s life prior to WWII. So, if you were astonished and inspired by The Hiding Place, then you will want to read this book.

Now, that said, it’s not as gripping as the first, naturally. But there was one thing that struck me. Her family was a family that prayed, and I mean prayed at all times. They never decided anything without praying, and praying right then and there too, in front of anybody and everybody.

Do we do that? I mean, pray at all times?

Corrie is the second from the left. They were poor, and yet, look with what dignity they dressed.

More Books: Ciszek and Lefebvre

I had wanted to say a few words about another nonfictional book I just read, but really, I’m running out of time. So, I’ll just mention it: With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek. Ah! What a tremendous read! Do you have sons? Get them this book immediately. Read it yourself. That priest survived 23 years in Soviet concentration camps, and I’ve never been more inspired by his perseverance and faith in God’s will.

Lastly…what am I reading now?

I’ve picked up Marcel Lefebvre’s biography. I’ve always wanted to read about that controversial SSPX archbishop. I’m about 80 pages into it and loving it. When I finish, I hope to give you my thoughts.

Anybody else reading something good?

Book Review

Gaudy Night: Book Review

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

Now this was a delightful read.  In fact, I couldn’t put it down.  Dorothy Sayers just turned my whole literary world upside down.  I thought I hated detective fiction.  I thought it was a waste of time.  I thought the whole genre could be brushed right into the dust bin.

Oh, was I wrong.

Let me back up a minute and define what actually is a narrow field of fiction: the detective novel.  The detective novel is different from the broader field of mystery novels.  The detective novel has a few rules:

  1. There’s a detective.  (I know, this should be obvious, right?  But nothing is obvious to me in this mysterious new world of words.)
  2. The author must provide all the clues and evidence in the text, so that the reader can actually solve the crime, along with the detective.
  3. In other words, to restate #2, one cannot withhold information which is available to the detective, but not to the reader.

I’m told there are other differences too, but I’m a slow learner, and these are the ones that stood out.  If you’re interested in learning a bit about this, a dear friend of mine in North Dakota sent me a lively and informative podcast about this very thing.  Click HERE for it and scroll down to Episode 3. ( You won’t regret listening to Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford.  I love these ladies.)

Back to Sayers

Like most homeschool moms, I had read Sayers’s famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and it had never occurred to me that she had written anything else.  Why should it?  At that time in my life, I was too busy in grad school reading all sorts of new and lovely books–Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh…  I wouldn’t have had room in my little brain for her anyway.

Plus, Sayers is really smart.  I mean, really, really intelligent.  She was one of the first women in history to be given a degree from Oxford.  Her knowledge of those things Medieval and Renaissance is impressive.  Gaudy Night is chock-full of references and quotations from that time period, which I struggle with.  Thankfully Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford put together a couple of podcasts specifically about Gaudy Night, which I found tremendously helpful.  You can find these episodes on their Literary Life Podcast.  I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, like I did.

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Back to Gaudy Night

It was within the first few pages that I knew I’d like Sayers’s heroine, Harriet Vane.  Sayers writes:

But Harriet had broken all her old ties and half the commandments, dragged her reputation in the dust and made money, had the rich and amusing Lord Peter Wimsey at her feet, to marry him if she chose, and was full of energy and bitterness and the uncertain rewards of fame.

That pretty much sums Harriet Vane up, and the novel is so engaging because we get to see her finally take a good look at herself, and realize that she had it all wrong.  She didn’t really know herself–or Peter for that matter.

And then there’s Lord Peter Wimsey.  Angelina Sanford compares his personality to that of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  I found this intriguing and so true, especially when it came to manners and wedding proposals.

I promise that this book isn’t just a love story, though.  There is a mystery to solve…  In fact, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Sayers has multiple themes running at once.  For you see, she was writing this book at a time when women in universities was a new thing, and so she explores all the complications of introducing another “sex” into the life of Oxford.  She ponders single life and married life and women in the workforce and women at home.  It’s all there, and it’s messy.

In the end, I can’t wait to reread this book.  But first I want to get ahold of her previous novel Strong Poison where we get the backstory of Harriet and Peter.  Then I want to read the book after Gaudy Night wherein Peter and Harriet are solving crime mysteries on their honeymoon–goodness!