Monday, March 17, 2008

Dorothy L Sayers

I've been doing an intense course of DLS lately. For some reason, Wimsey never made it to my list of favourite detectives while growing up, though Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot all found a place. I discovered DLS when I had started working, and immensely enjoyed her style of writing - a very rich, layered and erudite version of detective fiction. Most of the other authors, though well-versed in the classics, didn't weave them into the story as much as DLS did.

And DLS spends a considerable amount of time painting a portrait of her flawed hero and heroine. Wimsey belongs to the Bertie Wooster class of hero, upperclass, rich, titled and all too prone to twittering. But of course, he's a lot more intelligent than poor Bertie, and not only works to manage his inheritance and income, but also at detecting and has serious hobbies like collecting first editions. A host of titled acquaintances and relatives make their way through the books.

Wimsey, like Bertie, is ably supported by a Man Friday, Bunter, though Bunter is less brainy than Jeeves, since Wimsey is bright himself. Bunter also 'demeans' himself by doing a variety of things that I'm sure Jeeves would never deign to, like taking photographs of assorted corpses, fingerprinting and engaging in romantic interludes with a variety of domestics to dig out information about each mystery.

There is an air of seriousness and tragedy that hangs about Wimsey, who has also suffered from nerve shock after WWI. Unlike the typical detective, Wimsey stays involved way after the murderer has been unmasked, and suffers agonies of self-doubt over his self-appointed role as the arm of justice. The murder victim, like in many other detective stories, is often an unlikeable or plain wicked creature, and the murder is almost 'asked for', which is what plants the seeds of doubt. Unlike Poirot, though Wimsey too does 'not approve of murder', he sees the world in shades of grey.

Gaudy Night, set in Oxford in a female college, is a rather detailed and interesting study of life in a Women's college, in a day and age when it was still not that common for women to study beyond school. One of the books I find most interesting is Strong Poison, which is where Peter Wimsey meets his nemesis - his future wife, Harriet Vane, who's been accused of poisoning her lover. A most unusual heroine for those times, one would think.

Reading a Sayers is a serious occupation, because each book has so many allusions, seemingly thrown away in a random bit of dialogue or prose, and unless one works out the source and the full context, the allusions don't make sense. It's almost like turning detective yourself. Sayers is a good author for those who enjoy detective fiction but prefer it to be intricate and laced with detail as well as heavy on atmosphere.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Books for kids

By now this is becoming a familiar theme on this blog. But the good news - my son has started reading. Of course, like the lazy bum he is, he starts out by protesting that the words are too hard but when I refuse to budge and read to him, he starts off and has read a whole Reading Level 2 book about Lions, and started on the Ladybird edition of Wizard of Oz.

One of the books I rediscovered recently and that we both love reading together is a series called Amelia Bedelia. It's about a young housekeeper named Amelia, who always manages to misunderstand the instructions she is given. For instance, when she is asked to separate the eggs, she carefully puts the 6 eggs in the basket at different corners of the room. When she is told to baste the chicken, she whips out her needle and thread. And when she plays baseball, she is funnier than ever - she runs all the way to her house, when told to take a home run, and argues that stealing is wrong when told to steal a base.

The books are easy reading and loads of fun but they also help build vocabulary and are a great introduction to synonyms and homonyms as well as colloquialisms. I'd recommend them to any beginning reader since the stories are so interesting it keeps kids engaged and wanting to read more.

Cross-posted at Rainbow days