I'm too tired to read anything new so have been round the libraries taking out my default-setting books to read over Christmas. These include:
The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford. The blood-stained entrenching tool displayed above the fireplace, child-hunting over Shenley Common, Jassy traumatising the local children telling them the facts of life. The scene at the Gare du Nord where Linda sits on her luggage to cry and meets Fabrice always takes me back to the first reading of the novel, sitting wrapped in my Welsh Tweed shawl, in a tiny bedroom on the eighteenth floor of a high-rise in Kennington. The Pursuit of Love is romantic, hilarious and bleakly eccentric.
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, Florence King. When I entertained troops on the American base in Kandahar, four South Carolina army captains made me an Honorary Southern Belle. Madame Galina, they said, in all her unreasonable, high-blooded, simpering flounce reminded them of the girls back home. Florence King never became a Southern Lady, let alone a Belle, but her grandmother's failed efforts to make her one (she never convinced her to become so delicate in her nether regions that her womb might potentially fall out, like the sky on Chicken-Licken's head) are tremendously funny.
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen. I'm always beguiled by the exactitude of this novel. I see it as a fairy story - Cinderella and The Fisherman and his Wife - find the Crawfords deeply erotic, Mrs Norris horrifying. In my more recent re-readings I've stopped heckling Fanny Price. She's not well in her head.
A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie. The clues in this one always have me grinning. Watch for the gender of names, use of diminutives and alternate spellings of a word. The most obvious clue to the murderer's identity is presented again and again but I've yet to hear from anyone that has grasped its significance at first reading.
Incidentally, the lesbian couple, Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, are described with neither prejudice nor special pleading. In a complaint email to ITV I cited them, along with Mr Pye (The Moving Finger), Clotilde Bradbury-Scott (Nemesis) and 'my queer house-sitter' (A Caribbean Mystery) as evidence that Christie does not need ITV's LGBT character transplants...
'Reworking the plot of The Body in the Library as you did recently, you managed to jettison one of the great joys of a Miss Marple: that moment when she gasps, says she's been so terribly, terribly stupid and sends Gladys/Cherry/Edith, or whichever maid is working for her at the time, to fetch Inch, the local taxi driver. We know she's going to London, to Somerset House, and are now on the lookout for someone in the novel being secretly married to someone else, or being their parent, child or sibling. As I say, it's one of the joys of a Miss Marple. And you ruined it.'
Lesbifying Dame Agatha's denouements indeed!