Watch the amazing Locus juggle several books at once, and try not to drop any! Free admission.
"This book does not contain a map. Please feel free to draw your own."
It's been a hectic few weeks, and I was in a bit of a reading slump (I have a few books on the go, but was finding myself unmotivated on any of them). So it feels good to be back with Pratchett! This should get the reading motor going again.
Well, this one left me reeling in the best way. I think I was out of breath at the end! So here are some final thoughts:
1. I like the fact that the murder didn't happen until halfway through the novel. When it happens at the start of a book, we never really get to know the deceased except for hearing about them from outside perspectives. Here, we get to know Linnet, understand her world, and this makes the tragedy hit so much harder.
2. Poirot as matchmaker! I love how he nudged Rosalie and Tim together, and how he helped out Cornelia. He also knows when to show mercy (at the cost of great frustration for poor Colonel Race, who makes such a great foil here for Poirot).
3. Speaking of which, hooray for Cornelia! Bessner is perfect for her; I was going to be really angry if she'd ended up with that egotistical jerk Ferguson. He had all the makings of an abusive gaslighter; Bessner, on the other hand, respects her and is willing to nurture her interests.
4. Jacqueline was an amazing character. I'm glad that her psychology was explored so deeply, instead of making her out to be some crazed killer. Even her final action, shocking as it was, made complete sense in light of the fact that she's always taking care of Simon. Talk about emotional labor!
5. The red herrings were, as always in Christie, wonderful little tidbits. I had guessed at the mystery of the pearls (though not how it would be carried out), but Richetti being the revolutionary was a fun surprise. I also kept expecting Linnet's suitor from the start of the novel to show up in disguise at some point, but that apparently was not in the cards. The battle of the lawyers also helped make the story more interesting by providing another possible motive.
So this is definitely going in my list of favorite Christie novels; was this one of her own favorites too? And, as we've mentioned in post comments earlier this week, I'm now jealous of future readers who will get to discover it for the first time.
Thanks for a great buddy read, fellow Agathytes!
I'm ten chapters in, so here are a few random observations:
1. I love the constant sense of menace. There's such a difference between mysteries that take place over a large area (a city, for example) and ones set in a more claustrophobic place: trains, boats... wherever a group of people are thrown together. This reminds me of Orient Express in its atmosphere.
2. The interactions between family members, acquaintances, and social classes are fascinating. And I love seeing Poirot at the very center, as an observer.
3. Colonialism, and the attitudes the various travelers bring to Egypt. For example: “If there were only any peace in Egypt, I should like it better,” said Mrs. Allerton. “But you can never be alone anywhere. Someone is always pestering you for money, or offering you donkeys, or beads, or expeditions to native villages, or duck shooting.” Ferguson provides an interesting counterpoint here.
4. An interesting take on male and female expectations and how these are subverted here. Simon may complain that he doesn't want to be controlled by a woman, but is perfectly willing to follow the commanding, contract-reading Linnet. And I think that Linnet's own sense of power is at the heart of some people's dislike of her, and their constant mantra of "it's not fair that she has everything."
Holy introductions, Batman! That was a whirlwind of a first chapter, and I don't think I'm going to remember half the people mentioned. But now they're all (coincidentally or not) in Egypt, swarming like flies around Linnet with a delicious sense of menace.
"There should be a word for that brief period just after waking when the mind is full of warm pink nothing. You lie there entirely empty of thought, except for a growing suspicion that heading towards you, like a sockful of damp sand in a nocturnal alleyway, are all the recollections you’d really rather do without."
Pratchett is always such a delight, and has some of the best descriptions for random everyday sensations I've ever read (see above). Mort's story is a coming-of-age tale, set within an unusual apprenticeship for which he soon realizes he might not be an ideal candidate. His clash against the idea of inevitability sets off a chain of events that make for a great adventure as he tries to set things straight again. In the meantime, Death is taking a vacation and perhaps becoming too close to humanity. In the end, order is restored, though in an unorthodox manner, and history can continue on its course.
I think we were starting this one today? I've had a crazy week, and wasn't able to keep up with posts. But this will be perfect for a well-deserved break!
In terms of tone, this novel is somewhere between the two Pym works I've previously read: it has much of the lighthearted banter and witty observation of Excellent Women, but also a melancholy air akin to Quartet in Autumn.
The "unsuitable attachment" of the title is supposed to be that of John and Ianthe, but I felt that it actually extended to all the potential and actual pairings in the novel. Penelope, in particular, interested me: she seemed to be a character at a crossroads between tradition and modernity. Rupert calls her a "Pre-Raphaelite beatnik," which is a great way to describe the kind of societal limbo in which she exists. She has an interesting conflict with herself and her sister, constantly being pulled towards the traditional life path of marriage, but somehow knowing that she would be setting herself up for disappointment. Her sister's own marriage seems uninspiring, and it's not until Ianthe's wedding at the end that she seems to wake up to her own possibilities, should she stray from the beaten path. The final scene, however, leaves her in a bit of a cliffhanger situation.
Ianthe and John... well, that was an odd courtship. At one point I described him as stalkerish and creepy, and I wasn't convinced of his character. Once I'd finished the novel, I turned to Larkin's introduction, where he points out that John "seemed faintly threatening (‘ John had been intended to be much worse,’ Barbara wrote apologetically)." That made more sense.
As for the other male characters, a petty part of me can't help feeling that the way they're portrayed might have influenced the publisher's decision. As Larkin points out, his contact at the publishing house explained: "At that time we had two readers, both of whom had been here for many years: William Plomer and Daniel George. Neither then or at any time since has this company rejected a manuscript for commercial reasons ‘notwithstanding the literary merit of a book’." There's very little to commend any of the men in this novel, especially in their approach to their relationships with women. A few choice quotes:
- "‘Reading, were you?’ Rupert picked up the book which lay on the little table by the fire. It turned out to be the poems of Tennyson, bound in green morocco. Could she really have been reading that? he wondered, looking around for the novel stuffed behind a cushion."
- "How convenient women were, Rupert thought, accepting her offer, the way they were always ‘just going’ to make coffee or tea or perhaps had just roasted a joint in the oven or made a cheese soufflé."
- "not that he loved her but that he would like to see her always in his house, like some suitable decoration or finishing touch."
- "Now that he was left alone with the two women, both of whom (he imagined) rather admired him, Rupert felt a sense of power, though there being two of them rather limited the scope of what he could do – cramped his style, he might almost have said. In the end, after the tea had been made and drunk, there seemed nothing for it but to escort them home."
- "Rupert hardly knew what to say. If only he could take her to bed with him, he thought as they approached the pensione, so much might be smoothed out there. But perhaps it was just as well that circumstances made it impossible at this moment, for that might bring about even deeper complications."
- "within not much more than a month he – the meekest and kindest of men – had made a woman cry."
- "taking her by surprise so that she could not refuse a casual invitation to lunch."
The women aren't very helpful either: Sophia upholds the status quo, and even the seemingly progressive Penelope hangs on to ideas about her place in society. In the end, it's the apparently old-fashioned Ianthe who surprises them all by marrying for love instead of respectability. Whatever comes of her marriage, it feels like a spark of hope.
My one big criticism of the novel is the re-introduction of Everard and Mildred as a married couple. At the end of Excellent Women, the situation was undefined, and the reader left to contemplate possibilities. Here, a single phone call does away with any speculation. At the end of An Unsuitable Attachment, I'd like to keep to my own fantasies about Penelope's encounter with Rupert.
I was actually kind of bummed to read about Everard and Mildred. Maybe because I hadn't really wanted to imagine going down that path at the end of Excellent Women. Sometimes it's better to just let characters fade away after the last page?
I can't help thinking that, were this a thriller or horror novel, John would be an axe-wielding psychopath. He's really creepy.
"An elderly female novelist had come in at a quarter to six and Penelope had found herself trying to explain why her latest novel had not been reviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, why it had not been advertised more widely, why copies had not been displayed on the bookstall of a friend's local station, why it had not yet been reprinted."
I wonder if Pym is referring to herself here, given the difficulties she had with this novel's publication?
“The only way that scoundrel is getting your mother’s pearls,” she shot back, “is if I strangle him with them.”
This was such a fun little snack of a book; I really needed something like this! It had some of my favorite romance tropes (culture clash, fake engagement, siblings scheming to get the couple together, a tough-as-nails matriarch who helps in her own way...), with a dash of angst but not so much that it became too dramatic.
Oliver was a bit cookie-cutter, and I'm kind of over the "woman as rehabilitation center" thing (you know: the one special woman who can get our brooding hero to open up and want to be a better person). But beneath that, there is a moving story of a man who has given up on himself because he blames himself for a tragic event. Oliver does come to his senses, and Maria (whose quote above is my favorite in the book) is strong enough to not take any crap from him.
I'll definitely check out the rest of the series. Besides the fact that the other siblings are interesting individuals, there's a bit of a murder mystery that's supposed to be explored throughout the books, and it was one of my favorite parts of this one.
She reached up to cup his cheek with a disarming tenderness. “You don’t really want to marry—admit it. You never did.” “You don’t know what I want.” Catching her hand in his, he pressed a hard kiss into the palm. “I want you.” “But on your terms. I can’t accept those terms.” Tugging her hand from his, she wrapped her arms about her waist. “I think you should leave now. The servants will be stirring soon.” “Good. They’ll find us together, and then you’ll have no choice.” Mutiny shone in her face. “I always have a choice. But you did promise not to embarrass me in the future. Do you now mean to break that promise?” Shame rose in him, an emotion so foreign to him that he didn’t recognize it at first. It warred with the desperation rising in his chest at the thought that she really might not marry him.
I really like Maria, she really doesn't let Oliver get away with things.
IT TOOK EVERY ounce of Hetty’s will to hold her stern expression until she was certain Miss Butterfield was gone. Then she allowed a smile to break over her face. Strolling to the brandy decanter, she poured herself a healthy amount. The girl was perfect. Perfect! Draw a sword on him? Take him to task for implying that she was a whore? Then refuse any amount of money that was offered to betray him?
Haha! Well, Oliver has to get his scheming nature from somewhere!
I really hope Maria gives Oliver a hard time during their agreement. And he certainly wasn't expecting that sword, haha!