Books, life the universe

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Gaudy Night

No absolutely nothing to do with my private life - or even life in general. Martin Edwards - over at Do you write under your own name? - link at the top of the page - wrote about his thoughts on Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night and prompted several comments. It was interesting to see that women were in general far more enamoured of the book than men. It has always been one of my favourites and it is a book I re-read virtually every year.

There is no murder in Gaudy Night - just a rather unpleasant poison pen and a narrowly averted drowning. The main focus of the story is how Harriet Vane manages to overcome her feelings of overwhelming gratitude to Peter Wimsey for saving her from the gallows (in Strong Poison) and starts to see him as someone she can love for himself rather than for what he did.

The descriptions of academic life in the 1930s at Oxford is well done and may well have influenced many people to put the university as their first choice. This may be an idealised portrait but it makes excellent fiction in my opinion.

Even though the poison pen takes second place to the love story it is still well crafted. If you know who did it you can see the clues but I certainly didn't work out who until close to the end of my first reading. The issues aired in the book - should women put career before family and can women have both? - are as valid today 80 years later as they were then. The other issue of importance in the story - is integrity in scholarship vital? - is also still of considerable interest.

If you read the book for its crime content - you may be disappointed. If you read it for the love story you may well decide that its subtlety is much more effective than bodice ripping. If you read it for its depiction of academic life you may form an idealised picture of Oxford. It is a different book completely from Five Red Herrings, The Nine Tailors, Strong Poison or Murder Must Advertise and cannot be compared with them. In my opinion it is an excellent novel which has broken out of the genre mould and can stand on its own merits. It repays more than one reading.

1 comment:

NAM said...

Oh, I do like reading reviews of books not newly published, which is why I often enjoy 'Slightly Foxed', after all - so thank you.

The thing I mind most in 'Gaudy Night' is the issue of academic integrity: I blaze somewhat when I get to Annie Wilson's rant - and I always come to the same conclusion. It was her husband's fault, because he cheated and he couldn't cope with the consequences, but she not only won't see it, she fixes the blame elsewhere. It's a very potent narrative!