Saturday, August 6, 2011

you're not worth my time

likely because we had tickets to the science museum of minnesota's king tut exhibit--which, despite their cost, we did not end up using because my wife developed a debilitating migraine, and I'd rather eat $100 than have her in misery for an afternoon--I grabbed an elizabeth peters mystery on my way out the door to an errand that involved sitting for an hour and a half. it was called the hippopotamus pool and it was execrable.

I should qualify that. the 1st 50 pages were execrable. the rest might be spectacular but I'll never know. I give any book an hour and if it doesn't make me want to keep reading after the 1st 50 pages I give it up. I noted on my facebook page that peters is an exceptionally bad writer but that's not really true. she's a very clever writer who probably can write well, perhaps for her more contemporary mysteries or her supernatural novels under the name barbara michaels, but she tries to make her amelia peabody novels a pastiche of the writing prevalent of the time in which they take place--the turn into the 20th century--and she gets some things right but the spirit wrong. as a person who reads a lot of novels from that period I'm familiar that there's a certain feel to the writing that readers come to expect, a certain verbosity and ornateness and unwillingness to name unpleasant things for what they are. I'm not certain attempting to write in that style by contemporary authors is necessary, although some--nicholas myers, laurie king, alan moore, julian barnes, anne perry, and of course george macdonald fraser, among others--do it very, very well.

it is usually sex that leads to trouble in these things and peters has made an especially unhappy attempt to invoke it, at least here. it's not a bad thing to want to go against the received wisdom that proper victorians were not the sexless prudes we've imagined them--indeed, frank harris made a cottage industry debunking that--but it is bad to suggest it with a fist made of ham and pork, which is the case here.

"I now make certain that the buttons on emerson's shirts are sewn with double thicknesses of thread, since they were always popping off when he disrobed in haste or when he expanded the impressive breadth of his chest. this was an old shirt; the buttons slipped handily out of the holes, and as he extended his arms to their full length, quite a large expanse of his person, smoothly tanned and artistically modeled, became visible.

"'really, emerson, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,' I said. 'if you think you can distract me from my maternal obligations in that crude, unsubtle fashion--'

"'unsubtle? my dear peabody, you don't know what you are saying. now if I had done this...or this...'

"leaving the cat anubis to the sitting room, we retired to our own."

this book is not worth my time.

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