21 October 2018

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

A couple of weeks ago I stopped by our local bookshop for a copy of Town & Country, the Autumn edition.  It hadn't arrived from overseas yet, but a wander around lead me to the Mystery section.  It's not a part of the store that I venture into all that often, and even then it's usually to root out something for my husband.  But then I noticed Dorothy L. Sayers' books; they've been reissued with eye-catching covers and Gaudy Night had the highest page count of the bunch....oh, go on then.

'Harriet Vane sat at her writing table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square.  The late tulips made a brave show in the Square garden, and a quartet of early tennis-players were energetically call the score of a rather erratic and unpractised game.  But Harriet saw neither tulips nor tennis-players.  A letter lay open on the blotting-pad before her, but its image had faded from her mind to make way for another picture.  She saw a stone quadrangle, built by a modern architect in a style neither new nor old, but stretching out reconciling hands to past and present.'

Bloomsbury and Oxford - two of my favourites in a long list of favourite places in England.  Gaudy Night should have gone over a treat, but alas....it did not.  I love nothing more than to sink into the prose of Elizabeth Bowen or Virginia Woolf, so I found myself ever more frustrated at the seemingly clinical way in which Sayers doled out late night episodes of vandalism in the colleges of Oxford.  Epithets spray-painted on the wall of the library were apparently too shocking to share, but I wanted to know the topic of the vandal's ire.  I'll admit that I judged the poison pen letters sent to Harriet and other members of staff with a does of twenty-first century cynicism, because the waves of negativity on social media has hardened me.  When Peter Wimsey arrives on the scene to help Harriet wade through a few clues, I laughed out loud.  Would someone employed by the Foreign Office have the time of day to deal with a disgruntled busybody?

I emailed Mary (Mrs Miniver's Daughter) the other day to complain about the lack of description when it came to food in Gaudy Night.  Where were the gas-rings?  The mouthwatering descriptions of cake?  Harriet had been back and forth to her flat in Bloomsbury but I was still none the wiser about the pattern on her curtains or her bedclothes.  Does Harriet wear perfume?  Elizabeth Jane Howard gave her readers all sorts of detail when setting a scene, painting a portrait with words.  Mary was quick in her defense of the author which led me to point out a tea basket pulled out from under the seat of a punt while touring the river.  Not one mention of what was inside said basket until a page and a half later when Wimsey feeds crumbs to the ducks.  Crumbs from what, I ask you?

My favourite character in Gaudy Night is Lord Peter Wimsey's unabashedly entitled young nephew, Lord Saint-George.  Charm and handsomeness aside, his posh ignorance as to the cost of anything was more entertaining than it should have been.

Then a message kept creeping in - equality for women and the desire to choose education and profession over marriage.  It was what drove me to keep turning pages, because I couldn't have cared less who was sending poison pen letters to women at the college.  Although, I did gasp when Harriet left a women, while drunk and unconscious, flat on her back as she went for help.  Didn't they know about the recovery position in the 30s?  I digress.

It wasn't until the last handful of pages that I warmed up to Harriet Vane, or rather Dorothy L. Sayers' writing.  A heartwarming scene at the end of the story won me over...it probably had something to do with the fact it was absent of a single clue or red herring!  I wanted more of that style of writing, but it wouldn't be the sort of writing that made Sayers so popular.  The problem is all mine.

We drove to the lovely university city of Guelph yesterday, to scan the tables at their annual Friends of the Guelph Library book sale (a must if you live within travelling range!).  My husband came looking for me with a book in a pretty shade of blue in his hand....a Folio Society, no less.

I'm willing to give Dorothy L. Sayers another chance....

11 October 2018

Autumn is....

....my favourite season.  After a very hot summer I am more than pleased about the fresher air, atmospheric grey skies, more rain for the garden, and pumpkin pie.

Due to busy work schedules, my husband and I only had one day to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend together.  We didn't have the luxury of choosing a 'best weather day' for our annual trip to the Niagara region for a fall fair - it had to be last Sunday.  The forecast was calling for part sun, part cloud, part rain so I thought wellies would be a safe bet....but what if the sun came out and left me broiling?  At the last minute, I left home wearing white running shoes with cropped trousers...and it rained.  Well, of course it did!  Nevermind, our umbrellas were open for less than an hour and the 'mucky farm' state of our footwear was a bond between me and other visitors as we made our way through the rows of tents.  Actually, it made a nice change from the heat of the past several years.  Drinking hot apple cider is much nicer when there's a chill in the air.

 After contemplating a few things that, in the end, we decided we didn't need more of, we brought home a clay tile featuring a jay made by Diane Sullivan from Arabesque Pottery.  The back of the tile is lined with cork so it can be used as a trivet but it's much too nice for that.  This fierce-looking fellow will keep watch over one of my bookcases once I've bought a stand.  And we look forward to seeing Diane again as she was out of a specific botanical tile that also caught my eye.

 Forget what I wrote about not buying things I have enough of.  My collection of bookmarks probably hovers somewhere around 30, BUT...I don't own one featuring an English robin.  The gentleman who made the bookmark mentioned that he had sketched the robin while visiting the Isle of Man this past summer.  I like the idea of my robin fluttering around a garden thousands of miles away, while marking my page here in Ontario.  Anyway, Mr Thomson burns his sketches onto very thin, flexible wood veneer followed by the addition of colour, if he so chooses.  You can see more of Mr Thomson's work here.

After snacking on roasted yams, fries, and the must-eat apple fritters fresh from the largest cauldron of oil you'll ever see, we drove to Bench Brewing.  My husband was taken with their product after a bit of sampling in the wine and beer tent.  A drive in this area, at the base of a wall of trees along the Escarpment, is something of a gift in itself.  The reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves against the cloudy sky were beautiful and several historic homes had their porches dressed with pumpkins and stalks of corn.  We were very impressed with Andres, who gave us a passionate tutorial about Bench's brewing techniques and some of their ingredients.  My husband was thrilled to discover a couple of new favourites when it comes to beer.  I wanted to double back for more hot apple fritters!

Another special moment from last week was having a very pretty fox calmly trot up to us while we walked our border collie, Kip, along the trails not far from home.  He/She stopped just a few feet away and looked at Kip as more of a potential playmate than anything else.  We didn't move a muscle, Kip didn't bat an eye, and after a couple of minutes the fox gracefully jumped through the rails in the fence and moved on.

In bookish news....I set aside Kate Atkinson's Transcription at page 206.  Right book, wrong mood?  I'll try again, but in the meantime I'm enjoying Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night and have ordered a copy of Sarah Perry's Melmoth as my 'spooky' read for the end of October.  I'm just a tad (over the top) excited for the day it lands in the mailbox!