Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Distraction Tactics

Well the mincemeat is made and I am viewing it with a degree of suspicion normally reserved for spiders. The quantities involved turned out to be so vast that they wouldn’t all fit in a bowl, had to be decanted into the largest pan I own, and still threatened to escape. Slightly disturbingly it all disappeared into a very few pots, where squish it as I might there still seem to be little pockets for air (bad) and all I can see is suet and apple (unappetizing). It will be a few weeks until I know if it’s worked or if it’s the pickled herring all over again.
In the meantime I will be reading and trying not to stare. The perfect book would have been Sarah Caudwell’s ‘The Sibyl in Her Grave’ which I have sadly just finished. Sarah Caudwell was my Slightly Foxed discovery of last week, and ‘The Sibyl in Her Grave’ the cheapest on amazon. I liked the sound of Caudwell not least because we shared a university, although she went on to do a lot, and I went on to make Jam. Sadly she died from cancer in 2000 aged only 60, and having written only 4 books.

‘The Sibyl in Her Grave’ is the last of these, so I really started at the wrong end, but two more are on their way, and I get the feeling chronology isn’t going to matter to much. Caudwell is a relatively contemporary writer for me, I would think this book was written in 1998/99, and she worked on international tax planning for a major bank whilst she was writing, so presumably well into the 1990’s, but none of her young barristers have a mobile phone, there is no mention of computers, and they communicate by letter rather than email. Ironic how long ago the near past can feel.
Billed as a legal whodunit, the murder mystery aspect is satisfying in a vaguely Agatha Christie way, but it’s not as a crime novel that this book really works. The characters are sketched in quick light lines, they are easy to imagine but without any real substance, and the plot relies on the device of unfeasibly long letters to explain everything, but none of this matters compared to the sheer glorious wordiness of it all. The characters exist to say clever, funny things. Not jokes as such, just delightful, complicated sentences which made me laugh, but with the sort of elusive quality which makes quotation pointless – if I started a quote it would last for pages.
Caudwell is destined to join the select ranks of authors who I will read and reread whenever I want cheering up. Her combination of elitism, classical allusions (so glad I have a dictionary of Saints), lightness of touch, and humour all make for particularly satisfying reading.
The post has failed to deliver today, I hope tomorrow brings the next book - until then I will be trying not to prod the mincemeat and looking for another book to suit my mood.

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