'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.' --Francis Bacon, Of Studies.
I decided to have a taste of some more of P.D.James' books after reading her futuristic novel, set in London in the year 2012, The Children of Men.
My interest in this author was piqued when I read that she had lost some of her following due to the strong Christian undertones on the sanctity of life in this particular book.
(An interview with the author is here: http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/3380664.htm)
I've been rather hesitant to recommend this author. In all but one of her books I've read (except for Death Comes to Pemberley) there was a description or event that assaulted my senses in some way. Her characters are very complex and she writes with depth and a realism which can be raw, but at the same time insightful. She doesn't dwell long on these descriptions, however, and they tend to vividly divulge an aspect of the character's personality or background.
Original Sin, also set in London and centred around a publishing house, is a story about ancestral sin, 'the sins of the fathers,' and the fruit of this sin after years of unforgiveness and schemes for revenge.
One of the minor characters in this book was a disgruntled author whose latest work had been turned down by the publishing house. She was a lonely, pathetic sort of woman caught up in her own sense importance, and in her peevishness went to complain to the manager of the publishing firm and walked into the wrong place at the wrong time.
After her murder two detectives walk into her dingy apartment with its echoes of insignificance and disarray and James writes:
‘“Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days: that I may be certified how long I have to live."
Surely few people could pray that prayer with any sincerity. The best one could hope for or want was enough time to tidy away the personal debris, consign one's secrets to the flames or the dustbin and leave the kitchen tidy.'
I felt an ache when I read those words and thought of the murdered woman's 'personal debris' and it made me want to make sure that I didn't leave any debris behind, physically or spiritually. In the P.D. James books that I have read, justice was eventually accomplished, the characters reaped what they'd sowed, loose ends were tied, and I was satisfied that the case was closed - maybe I'm an idealist, but I dislike unresolved endings. There is a real literary quality to her writing but for me a taste of her books is enough now and again. Her worldview often diverges from the Christian one, in my opinion, which is contrary to some reviews of her books I've read.
P.D. James was an author I tasted but another author I read wholly and with attention was Miss Read. She is an English author and former schoolteacher, whose real name is Dora Jessie Saint (1913-2012). Her books centre around English villages, their inhabitants and the minutiae of everyday life in a way that is absorbing and evocative. She also describes the natural world beautifully.
My favourite is Miss Clare Remembers, a reminiscing by a retired school teacher who has lived through the two world wars. Miss Clare remembers her family and her school days, the death of Queen Victoria and the invention of the motor car. The engagements of both herself and her best friend (also a teacher) and their fiancés' subsequent deployment to France at the start of the war is remembered with pride. She poignantly recalls the death of her young man in action and the wounding and hospitalisation of her friend's fiancé and his decision to end the engagement and marry the nurse who had cared for him.
It was a very endearing story and so interesting to read about the impact the death of Queen Victoria had on her subjects and the developments that followed the world wars.
Miss Read has written a number of other books which centre around village life in England including, The Howards of Caxley, Winter at Thrush Green and Return to Thrush Green. She died in April of this year at 98 years of age.
"Miss Clare Remembers" by Enya was inspired by the beauty and simplicity of Miss Read's book.