Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me – title comes from an annoying children’s joke – is not a mystery. I realized this when we finally got to the crime about 166 pages in and followed the murderer the whole way. I did hold a little corner of hope that there’d be some sort of twist at the end, but that was not to be. The book follows OCD Minty, idiot Zillah and Fiona and her neighbors and their relationships particularly with a guy named Jerry or Jeff or Jock who’s a good-looking, good-for-nothing who uses his looks to live off women. If I sound a bit surly it’s because I feel somehow betrayed by the book — which doesn’t make much sense, I’ll admit. It all seems somewhat contrived. As though Rendell wanted to write a book to demonstrate that people aren’t always responsible for their actions so she invented this character Minty who grows more peculiar throughout the book. But don’t we already know of people who’ve had psychotic breakdowns and aren’t responsible for their actions? This might have been ground-breaking a hundred years before it was written, but now it just seems both contrived and elementary. There are a number of coincidences as well which stretch credulity too far. It feels like there aren’t more than a dozen people living in London.
Somewhat to my surprise I learn there are three different books with this title. It doesn’t seem that good a title to me. Reading other blogs and reviews, everyone else seems to like it a lot. “Characters that will capture your heart.” Um, some of the side characters are likable – Minty’s neighbors and Fiona’s neighbors are both nice couples. But the main characters? Zillah, who enters an arranged marriage with her childhood friend who’s a conservative politician trying to stay in the closet, seems to have no idea what a conservative is, what politics are, or what tabloids are. She seems to like her children no more than Jims, who is a shallow jerk who barely speaks to his new fake family. Fiona who doesn’t really have a character except a certain tendency toward charity. Jerry/Jock/Jeff is clearly getting by on his looks because his main characteristics are telling annoying jokes and eating mints. I also found the timeline hard to follow and it seemed like Fiona’s supposedly hugely overweight neighbor lost it all in a month. Rendell can write and I found myself drawn back to the book until I finished it, so clearly there’s something in it, but there’s also, for me, disappointment. Like opening Al Capone’s vault — all anticipation, no payoff.
#Woolfalong is a year-long project hosted by Heavenali to explore works by and about Virginia Woolf. I’ve long had an interest in her, but have not done much about this interest since college. I had started To the Lighthouse once before, but started over for this, but it was slow going and for that I’m blaming Alexander Hamilton. I couldn’t really read the Hamilton bio and To the Lighthouse at the same time, so Woolf went by the wayside for a bit. Then when the Chernow was done, I focused on Woolf, but it was still slow going because this is a dense book. It all takes place in two days with a separation of about 10 years illustrated by a passage of the decaying of the house. It is a vacation place of the Ramsay family and the first half of the book draws a picture of the Ramsays – apparently a picture based pretty heavily on Woolf’s own family. This one day doesn’t seem particularly significant in any way. The father is shown as being rather insensitive and boorish as he tells his son they won’t be able to go to the lighthouse the following day. The mother tries to comfort the son by reading to him and doing cutouts. It is mostly from her point of view, though it switches and we learn, over and over again that Mrs. Ramsay is beautiful and has a strong effect on other people. Presumably because of this beauty. I don’t know. It’s mentioned a lot. The day is so thoroughly drawn and yet, I’m not sure what is meant by any of it.
Warning! Spoiler! Okay, not really as there’s no plot, hard to spoil anything. More three panel book reviews if you click the image. But there are spoilers there, so go cautiously.
Ten years later – another day at the same house – the children have grown and they are actually going to the lighthouse now. The two youngest kids and their father whom they yearn to rebel against. Point of view is now mostly Lily the artist, guest of the family, and Cam the youngest daughter as she rides in the boat. I wish I had something to say about this. I put off writing hoping something would occur to me. The only thing I can think of was being glad I live in a time where girls are taught math rather than listening to other people talk about all kinds of things they have no knowledge of. Mrs. Ramsay seems like a nice mother, the father seems astonishingly childish. Especially if it’s a portrait of Woolf’s father. He was a mountaineer. One expects better behavior of a mountaineer than flinging his dishes out the window. It is hard to tell if his philosophical work was good for the time, but not great, or if he’s like whatshisname in Middlemarch wasting all his time on a massive project that is no more important than making a giant ball of rubberbands.
I’m sorry not to be more insightful. I’m going to keep Woolfing along and maybe develop a bit more sensitivity or something. Next up is Night and Day – Woolf’s second novel and apparently based on her sister. I believe I at least started this in college. The beginning seems very familiar.
So a few weeks ago, as a break from Hamilthon, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison. This is the book which introduces Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, and Harriet’s in a tough spot. Her ex-lover has died of arsenic poisoning and Harriet gave him coffee just before he got sick. The dinner he ate earlier was shared with his cousin and he’s not known to have eaten or drunk anything else. Harriet is unsympathetic to the jury for having lived in sin plus she’s known to have purchased arsenic (for a book, she claims.) Enter Lord Peter, smitten, which makes things awkward, to save the day. Fortunately, the jury is hung instead of Harriet, which gives him a short time to find the real killer.
Sadly, this is not my cover. My cover is the lame Invisible Wimsey suit and monocle.
I definitely enjoyed this. Sayers seems to be really hitting her stride. I finished this in a couple days and went on to the next one which for me is Have His Carcase because I read Five Red Herrings a couple years ago for Bingo. I have paused part way in Have His Carcase because I want to Woolfalong, though it is, for me, tough going. I’m behind, but close to finishing To the Lighthouse about which more soon.