— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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April 23, 2012

'An uneven tear, rather than a clean break'



The title that Jacqueline Winspear, or her publishers, chose for the new Maisie Dobbs mystery, is just perfect; it fits the book -- the case that Maisie is called on to solve, the personal choices that she's facing, and the tone of the book, from beginning to end.  The case begins when a group of costerrmongers from Covent Garden -- friends of her father, men Maisie has known since childhood -- ask her to look into the allegedly accidental death of Eddie Pettit, a young man with a childlike mind and wonderful gifts. Her investigation leads her past another questionable death, the powerful newspaper publisher who owned the factory where Eddie died, harm that comes to someone she cares about, and some mysterious work undertaken by a friend.  As always, there is a lot of historical relevance that goes into the case, and wonderful details of the period and the setting.

But what I liked best was a softer, more human, more fallible Maisie. And there were other things that resonated with me, maybe especially now: developments in her investigation, and some changes in her relationship with James Compton, that had her thinking about change and transition. She thinks about a young woman, the lover of a journalist who plays a part in her case, after he is killed and the flat they shared is ransacked:
Eve Butterworth wiped a hand across the taxi-cab window to rub away condensation, and looked out into the darkness. The task of clearing the flat had clearly drained the bereaved woman. The old had been destroyed and the new was yet to come, and as Maisie knew only too well, the limbo in between was akin to a desert, a place where one stood with nothing while waiting for the road ahead to become clear. And it might be some time before a fresh opportunity, a new job, another love, or a different way of life would make itself known.
and she thinks about herself, in the same light:
Having spent the night in their own home, Maisie felt quite refreshed. She had sighed with relief upon entering the flat -- the fat radiators were just warm enough, and she felt as if the walls, the furniture, the painting above the fireplace, and her collection of photographs were all pleased to see her. She prepared a supper of soup, bread, and cheese, and felt at ease with no servants flapping, no need to ring a bell to summon help for this or that; she could run her own bath, put in her own lavender salts. But, later, as she slipped down further into the bathtub filled with hot water, soaping her body and feeling the pressure of the day wash from her bones, she wondered -- not for the first time in her life -- who am I?
She thought she had come to some agreement with herself, that she had come to know the essence of her character, and how she might go forward in life, acknowledging her memories, her grief and disappointments along with the achievements, the times of joy, of love. But now it was as if she had built a house of cards, and then with one puff the shelter constructed with care had come down and she had to start all over again. The bequest from Maurice was the gust that had swept through her card house, and though it was a most beneficial inheritance, and she at least had a solid foundation upon which to construct her place of belonging once again, at the same time she was left wondering who she might be now and in the future.
There was something elegiac in this, too, and what happens, in the end, between Maisie and James seemed just right.
 
And a side note...  Forgetting that I had, because it was long ago, I put both the book and the audiobook of Elegy for Eddie on reserve at the library, and they both came in a few days apart.  I started reading this in print, on the T and at home, and finished the last few chapters by listening to it.  At the same time, I've been listing to the latest (and, as always, wonderful)  Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley, and as in the earlier books, its narrator, Jayne Entwhistle, is Flavia to a T.  The narrator for Elegy for Eddie read it beautifully, but she just didn't seem to be Maisie.  Or maybe just a different view of this complicated character than the one I've had.  Interesting (to me, at least)!

2 comments:

Bellezza said...

I have to get this book for my friend and neighbor to whom I've introduced Maisie Dobb, and of whom I've read none. My friend says she's great, though, so perhaps I will one day!

Darlene said...

Like Bellezza, I haven't read a single thing from this series but I'm quite sure they would appeal. Something to look forward to...

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