It has been a slow few weeks reading-wise, in-so-far as I have only finished Dickens and the House of Fallen Women, Evelyn Waugh’s Collected Short Stories and Picnic at Hanging Rock from my self-imposed reading list.
Dickens and the House of Fallen Women was a little uneven as it struggled with the same problem as Up and Down Stairs and a book along a similar theme I read recently, A Cargo of Women by Babette Smith, that of trying to order a large amount of disparate information into some sort of orderly progression. The underlying premise of House of Fallen Women was to investigate the relative success of a charitable organisation of Charles Dickens’ creation, Urania Cottage, a house for so-called ‘fallen women’ who would learn the skills of domestic service and then emigrate to a ‘better life’. A novel (ha, such a comedian) aspect was to link the names and known details of the real life Urania Cottage women to women depicted in Dickens’ stories. However, like in A Cargo of Women, I felt that it took too long to, as it were, get to Australia and find out what happened to the women. Instead of examining the problems the emigrants faced in their new homes before their actual arrival there in the narrative, I think it would have worked better as a discussion afterwards, but that’s just how I like my non-fiction structured. Remaining in Australia, Picnic at Hanging Rock was wonderful. The movie had not been much of a success as I spent most of the time trying to spot well-known Australian actors and being convinced that John Jarratt was somehow responsible for the disappearances, as Wolf Creek has permanently typecast him for me. The novel, however, does an amazing job of bringing to life the Australian bush and fills in the plot holes left by the movie.
I thoroughly enjoyed Evelyn Waugh and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of themes, as I had expected the stories to mostly follow similar lines to Brideshead Revisited. Stories such as ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’, ‘Tactical Exercises’, ‘Mr Loveday’s Little Outing’ and ‘Love Among the Ruins’ were distinctly creepy, while retaining Waugh’s distinctive mockery of English early 20th century aristocratic manners and ennui. Speaking of turn-of-the-century manners, I had to travel interstate for work last week and I took my trusty kindle, loaded with plenty of out-of-copyright classics. I have been reading Howard’s End by E.M. Forster for over six months as I only read it while I’m away. It certainly doesn’t help to maintain the momentum of what is a bit of a slow starter, but I think we’re finally starting to get somewhere. I might add it to the reading list so I can start fresh next trip.
I cheated on the reading list on my return home as a library copy of Gladys Mitchell’s Speedy Death was waved in my face. I love the television miniseries The Mrs Bradley Mysteries starring Diana Rigg, which is based on some of Gladys Mitchell’s novels. While I had expected some differences between Speedy Death and the episode based on it, I was surprised by how different the two were. In the book, Mrs Bradley is sallow and bird-like, with terrible taste in clothes, while Diana Rigg’s Mrs Bradley is stylish and looks amazing. There are also some seriously dodgy justifications for murder given in the novel, which are substantially glossed over in the episode. I have to say I prefer the miniseries Mrs Bradley so far, but I think I might have a crack at one of the books that hasn’t been dramatised so I have nothing to compare it to.
Next up is Vandermeer’s Authority, hooray!