I haven’t been a very diligent blogger lately! Well, I did write up another ‘This Week In My Sabbatical’ post on Thursday, but it was so dull I deleted it without posting. The gist of it was that I have been writing more stuff (quite a bit of it, which is good, at least), and doing some reading, but there really didn’t seem to be much to say about any of it, and who wants more moping from me about how difficult it gets for me when my schedule is so amorphous (and it isn’t even summer yet!) or more angst-ridden second thoughts about the state of my career?
Actually, one of the things I read was Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, and there is plenty to say about that — but I’m going to write up a “proper” review for Open Letters Monthly, so I don’t want to say much about it here. Is it silly to worry about “spoilers” for a review? That’s not exactly the concern, but duplication is. I will just say, then, that I read the book with absolutely rapt attention and, eventually, helpless tears, but that nonetheless I ended up feeling extremely frustrated, not so much with the novel itself but with Atkinson as a novelist, which may, I suppose, be a distinction without a difference.
I was so impressed with so much of A God in Ruins, though, that I’ve taking Case Histories off my shelf for a reread. I don’t think I’ve read it since I first got it, which was not long after it came out in 2004. I remember thinking it was very good, and I’ve read all the subsequent Jackson Brodie books, but I’ve never really considered them as options for my mystery class. Since I’m not teaching it until the winter term, I have a bit of time to consider tweaking the reading list (again!). It’s easier to switch up older books from the classic subgenres than to find recent books that have a tempting balance of innovation and thematic complexity. (Two recent contenders were Finding Nouf and The Unquiet Dead, but neither quite convinced me.) I’ll report back! And as always, if you have suggestions, let me know. Another option I’ve been thinking about is including a “literary” crime novel (Alias Grace, for instance), since one of our ongoing topics in the class is precisely the validity and/or usefulness of the whole notion of “genre” vs. “literary” fiction, or to add Paul Auster’s City of Glass back to the list — but its postmodern posturing was getting on my nerves the last time I assigned it, so maybe not. Someone recently recommend Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn to me: thoughts on that one? Should I give it a try?
I’ve been reading some romance novels in between other things. One of them was Loretta Chase’s The Last Hellion — which I didn’t really like. Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels was one of the first historical romances recommended to me back when I was taking my tentative (and skeptical) first steps into the genre. I thought it was ludicrous! But I’ve come a long way since then, and now it is among my favorites, though I still find the prose a bit too purple for my taste at times, and the last 25% of it doesn’t interest me very much. (I’ve mentioned before, I think, that I often don’t like or don’t even read the conclusions of romance novels — once the tension goes out of them, my inner cynic kicks in, or something.) Chase’s Mr. Impossible has become even more of a favorite. But something about The Last Hellion just didn’t work for me. The hero was uncomfortably aggressive in his advances, the story around the central romance seemed unnecessarily contrived, the heroine was too beautiful — which has become a bit of an ongoing annoyance. As an antidote, I returned to Judith Ivory’s The Proposition, which I remembered having a heroine who for once was not conventionally beautiful. What a relief! And the story is fun: it’s basically Pygmalion meets Dirty Dancing.
For our evening TV, my husband and I have started watching the Wallander adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh. I didn’t get along very well with Wallander in the books (though to be fair I haven’t read many of them). The show is no less grim, but everyone who told me how good the adaptations are was right. In particular, I think they are among the most beautifully filmed TV shows I’ve ever watched: stills from many of the scenes would look wonderful mounted and framed, though they are a bit stark or melancholy — which of course is appropriate for the series. Branagh is superb, as well: the show is as much (maybe more) a character study as a crime drama, and without his charisma it would be too dreary to bear, but he pulls it off. We’ve only watched the first three installments (we’re taking a break to watch Season 3 of Homeland, about which I am pretty ambivalent) but I expect we’ll come back to it. I’m excited that Netflix Canada (which is pretty badly stocked compared to the American version) has just added Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries! We ran a good essay on the series at OLM a while back that piqued my interest, and having now watched the first episode, it definitely seems like good fun, if that isn’t too perverse a thing to say about murder!