Saturday, September 29, 2012

Little grey cells, mon ami

It's getting harder and harder to find mystery series set between the World Wars with female detectives. But I found another, and it's entertaining: Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series.

(Funny thing, back in my middle school Regency Romance phase, I remember reading books by Carola Dunn. After a bit of research, I learned she's crossed genres.)

The Daisy books are yet another take on the privileged-girl-tries-to-make-her-own-way-in-the-world tale. The heroine, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple, is a writer for a magazine, and uses her society connections to write articles on stately homes and gardens around England.

They were definitely enjoyable enough, in a Christie-like way. And like any post-WW1 story, the cultural shift in women's roles and the slow disintegration of class lines are central to the story. (One does not, for instance, pursue a Scotland Yard inspector if one is an Honourable. One does not work.)

Unlike the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, which is wonderful but a bit heavy in its post-war legacy and class identity themes, the Daisy books seem to follow the Dame's successful formula: manor, small social circle of suspects (most of them fairly privileged), clever but not cliffhanging resolution.

More on order from the library!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The world breaks everyone

The bleak outlook of Train Dreams reminded me of Swamplandia!, minus the quirky characters and humor.

The story of a dying era in a dying landscape, Train Dreams follows one man from his days logging in the Cascades to his seasonal hermitages in Idaho, Montana, and Canada. From one isolated cabin or church or town to the next, trains rush through desolate regions ghost-filled with broken lives and loss.

Even though it is equally as devoid of hope and happiness as the last book I read.... at least it's in my own neck of the woods?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hell is empty; all the devils are here

I wanted to like Swamplandia! but I couldn't really get into it. It took me try after try to get into it, and I never really succeeded; I only finished it because I wanted  to make the overdue fines worthwhile...

A depressing tale about a family business (and a family itself, local culture, and way of life) crumbling in the Everglades, the book is certainly well-written and evocative. The main character is Ava, a tween girl whose family all leave: her mother dies of cancer, her father heads to the mainland to work at a strip club to pay off debts, her brother goes to work for the family's corporate rivals, and her mentally unstable sister runs away to marry a long-dead (and possibly made-up) teenage boatman.  It has delightfully quirky elements and enough interesting dynamics  -- like alligator-wrestling, a tragic ghost story, or glimpses of irony and comedy in characters' seemingly ordinary lives.

But there were a few needlessly shocking parts (I fail to see how statutory rape, for instance, was in any way symbolic or relevant). And throughout the book, the themes of abandonment and failure were made brutally clear: failed government revitalization programs, inadequate education, islands cut off from the mainland, changing muddy coastlines, derelict boats, etc. The past, present, and future presented in the book are rather abysmal and hopeless. By the end of the book, instead of celebrating the intricate and highly complicated histories of Ava's swamp heritage, I was horrified and simply glad that the book ended with her making it out of a mental and physical hellhole.

That sense of relief, if not the overall story itself, was worth the $1.60 fine.