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And what have I been reading?

  • The first three of Edmund Crispin’s dated mystery novels (The Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944; Holy Disorders, 1945; and The Moving Toyshop, 1946), on the recommendation of P.D. James in Talking about Detective Fiction (2010), itself a dull read;
  • Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2004) and its companion, autobiographical story collection Learning to Talk (2010), both of which I recommend;
  • Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel These Foolish Things, which was reissued as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after the 2012 movie came out; I recommend taking in the movie and the novel, because they’re quite different in plot and character;
  • Terry Pratchett’s A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction (2012), which I found not worth the money;
  • Barbara Tuchman’s much-too-long history Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1994), which, among other things, cured me of thinking of John of Gaunt as in any way an admirable figure; and
  • P.G. Wodehouse’s Mulliner Nights (1933), in which the eponymous Mr. Mulliner tells pub stories of adventures that befall his host of relations, mostly male. Thirty-seven of the total of 41 Mulliner stories were originally published in magazines between 1926 and 1937; the final four, between 1947 and 1970. The adventures are not only improbable but the narration impossible: Mr. Mulliner is recounting stories supposedly related by someone else who knows, for example, what a woman alone in her room is thinking. Still, they’re acceptable light reading. If I wanted all the Mulliner stories, I’d have to get the omnibus volume The World of Mr. Mulliner (1972), but I don’t think I will; the faulty narration drives me up a wall. I believe I’ll pursue some Jeeves and Wooster volumes that haven’t fallen into my hands heretofore.

Back to the subject of what I’ve been watching lately: I tried to take in the Masterpiece Theatre series Reckless (1997), starring Francesca Annis, Michael Kitchen and Robson Green, but quit after the first episode, as I just wasn’t in the mood for sleaze. In introducing the series, Russell Baker had cautioned viewers not to look for high literary entertainment or moral uplift but to expect “sheer fun.” (He neglected to warn viewers with a trauma trigger for stalking that there’d be plenty of stalking.) I gave up waiting for the “fun” to kick in, although I enjoyed the wry performance of David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones) as Robson Green’s father.

What’s worse than a prig (which I am)? A bored prig. A friend of mine, also of priglike persuasion, loathed the movie-musical Chicago (2002) because its characters were so sleazy. My reaction? The talent and the energy, in particular of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, were so sky-high that I didn’t care. I had fun.