The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 19, 2011

Old Socks

Careful, I thought. The whole thing might cave in and —
      Something slapped my face — something dangling from the roof like a dead white arm. I let out a little yelp and stopped in my tracks.
      A root! I had been frightened by a stupid root that had been put down, perhaps by one of the long gone borders which had, in earlier times, shaded the walkways of the Visto.
      Even though I ducked under the thing, its slimy finger still managed to caress my face, as if it were dying for want of human company.
      I limped along, the light of the torch sweeping wildly in front of me.
      Here, on both sides of the tunnel, a dusty assortment of ladders, ropes, pails, watering cans, and galvanized funnels had been left, as if the groundskeepers who had used them had wandered off to war and forgotten to return.
      A sudden flash of red brought me to a stop. Someone had written on the wall. I let the light play slowly over the painted letters H.d. L.
      Harriet de Luce! My mother had been here before me —found her way through this same tunnel — stood on these same bricks — painted her initials on the wall.
      Something like a shiver overtook me. I was surrounded with Harriet’s presence. How, when I had never known her, could I miss her so deeply?
      Then, faintly, from far along the tunnel, there came to my ears the sound of a voice — singing.
      ‘London Bridge is fallin’ down … my fair lady.’
-- from A Red Herring without Mustard, by Alan Bradley

The title I've given to this post has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, characters, clues or devices of this third Flavia de Luce novel; it's more about how I've felt about reading it, and two other recent books. {Those would be The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, the second Corduroy Mansions serial, and The Importance of Being Seven, the fifth? sixth? 44 Scotland Street serial, both by Alexander McCall Smith.}  It's not that I didn't like these books {I did, very much}, it's just that all three seemed like the same old thing again, nice as it was.  I wonder if it's that when you have quirky plots/characters/situations, they're so fresh and charming the first time around, and it's hard to sustain those exact qualities the second or third or sixth time? 

But I can say that I've listened to all three Flavias as audiobooks, and when you have such a good reader, I think it adds something extra to the reading. {And when it's the same reader each time, he or she is the character after a while. When P.D. James spoke in Boston some years ago, I remember her saying that Roy Marsden was very good, but he was not her idea of Adam Dalgliesh, and after that I always wonder if the author minds that taking-over.} Jayne Entwhistle, the actor who has read the three Flavias, is excellent. I'm not sure how to describe it, but she gives Flavia a slightly whiny, eager, ingratiating, wheedling voice that is exactly how I think Flavia would sound. Of course, she'll never sound any other way to me now.

As for the McCall Smiths, reading him just makes me happy. I still hope to follow one of these serials in real time,just for the fun of it.  I still have all  70 episodes of the third Corduroy Mansion serial bookmarked on my computer. I started off fine, got behind, and then stopped and set them aside for later when I realized that I had missed an entire book.

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Lisa said...

I was disappoined with Alan Bradley's first book, after reading so many almost gushing reviews - maybe my expectations were just too high. And with all due respect to Roy Marsden, I don't think he resembles Adam Dalgleish in the least, besides being too old for the part.

Bellezza said...

I've never been able to enjoy an Alexander McCall Smith book, never finished one in fact; perhaps I should try again! Now, as to Flavia, I've been wanting to read those books for a long time! I bought The Sweetness At The Bottom of The Pie when it first came out several years ago, but it's still unread. I like your point about the audio version, and wondering if the author feels her character's voice has been stolen in some way. I don't normally listen to audios, either, but that would be a great thing to do in the car. See how you're enriching my life?

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