Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Literature in the 1930s

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (American)

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie (British)

The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen (American)

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (American)
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara (American)

The Saint in New York by Leslie Charteris (British)

Absalom, Abalom! by William Faulkner (American)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (American)

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Danish)
Nancy Drew: The Whispering Statue

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (British)

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (American)
Khufu's Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz (Egyptian)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ride a White Dolphin (1971)

From the book cover: Leonie Thorburn is asked by her handsome, seemingly devoted husband to stay with his aunt in Venice while he is on a mysterious business assignment. Once in the magnificent city, Leonie finds herself the victim of several strange accidents, near-misses whose seriousness only she understands. A blessed old church becomes a trap; a celebration on the Grand Canal a scene of terror; a rendezvous with her husband, an encounter with death.

I love these books, mostly because they remind me of my childhood in the 1970s when they were immensely popular and my mom, aunt, and I read them constantly. We called them gothic novels, with Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca being the proto-type, not knowing anything about the deeper, more literary, roots of the genre by the same name.

Ride a White Dolphin is more accurately categorized as a romantic suspense, where readers can expect a central love story, a happy ending, and some, if not all, of the following:
  • An old house with a long history and secret passageways;
  • A narrator who is ordinary and insignificant (a la Jane Eyre);
  • A secretive husband whose trust is called into question;
  • An alternative male who provides support and friendship;
  • A sophisticated female who is in competition for the husband and has superior beauty and status.
Anne Maybury considered her novels atmospheric and that characteristic alone is precisely what makes her books, a quick diversion, still readable today. Dolphin is set in Venice. The author has an artistic appreciation for the visual world and the talent to weave a feeling of place into her text.

Dolphin is also interesting from a historical perspective. In the 1970s, as women's liberation took root, these books were being produced en mass for female readers. Leonie says the following:

"I had known for a long time before I left college the kind of work I wanted to do. The huge chemical and scientific industries drew me like a magnet."

Yes, Leonie works but she quits her job when her husband's position takes them from London to Venice. She is upset that she was not consulted prior to his having agreed to their relocation. She be-moans the fact that her job history is being damaged by her frequent starts and stops of positions, a common problem for women and complaints about which were coming to the forefront when the book was published.

During the rest of the novel, though, Leonie has zero interest in anything remotely scientific. She buys fashion magazines, takes painting lessons, and tries to hold on to her man. Everyone treats her like a child and she resents it.

Leonie is described as being much younger than her husband but at age 25 with her mate nearing 30, the gap is not that great. Rorke is clearly more mature, often dismissive, and frequently condescending. Leonie is small and not taken seriously. I wonder if the narrator's personality changes as Anne Maybury writes during the mid-to-late 1970s? Something to consider and find out.

And I'll bet, as the reading public began to reject female weakness, the genre faded away, not because the books were overlooked but because the convention no longer worked. 

The majority of these "gothic novels" are no longer in print and are available only through second-hand book shops but there's quite a following and appreciation for the genre. To find on Amazon: Ride a White Dolphin

Caution: You're About to Be Prolerized!

This book is about the life of Sam Proler, a self-made millionaire who earned his income through junk and the invention of the Prolerizer, a contraption that reduces steel to small moveable pieces.

"Invented in the late 1950s ... the Prolerizer redefined the entire metals recycling process. Its ability to transform very large metal objects into small balls of steel marked the beginning of a recycling revolution. The Prolerizer was able to pulverize objects as large as pickup trucks or commercial refrigerators, making it standard equipment for any medium- to large-sized yard."

Sam was born in a cold-water flat, the son of Lithuanian immigrants. As a youth, he moved to from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Houston, Texas and the rest is junk-metal history.

Why did I read this book? Sam Proler's dad is my great-grandmother's brother. I don't know Sam personally but I have a better understanding of my past as a result of his book. Family members describe him as young at heart, generous with his money, and a loving father. My only disappointment is that he didn't treat his brothers with a little more respect in his memoirs.

For more info, go to Proler Steel International, or to find on amazon: Caution: You're About To Be Prolerized

The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

From the Harper Collins website:

"When the luxurious Blue Train arrives at Nice, a guard attempts to wake serene Ruth Kettering from her slumbers. But she will never wake again -- for a heavy blow has killed her, disfiguring her features almost beyond recognition. What is more, her precious rubies are missing."

Yes! What a great setting for a little elegance and intrigue, but all I got was "oh, blah, who cares."

One reason for my less-than-favorable review is that "The Mystery of the Blue Train" is told in the third person and I much prefer Hastings as the narrator.

The Sherlock Holmes/side kick relationship works well with Hercule Poirot. It's a pleasure to read all of the small games Captain Hastings plays with the great detective, trying to prove himself as an equal.

On the bright side, however, I love the melodramatic book cover and am happy to post it here for my "books read" record.

To find on amazon: The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)