Monday, 27 October 2008

In praise of bad boys in literature

The bad boy has had a long and illustrious career in literature. He is the novelistic equivalent of cuban heels, skinny jeans and fags behind the bike shed. Think of the appeal of that ultimate bad boy, Satan the fallen angel in Paradise Lost. Think too of Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park and how we long for Fanny to accept him instead of mooning about after the worthy Edmund. Mr Darcy and his breeches thrill today's TV audiences. Poor old Tom Brown got only one novel and a little-known sequel, but Flashman who was a bully at Rugby School and a dashing if accidental hero afterwards, got a whole series. Then there's Mr Rochester - mean, moody, magnificent and with a mad wife in the attic. But then, perhaps we should take a tip from Jane Eyre who only consents to be with Mr Rochester after he is brought low by fire and injury. When it comes to a bad boy, "Reader, don't marry 'em."

In which, sisters, I read a lesbian feminist murder mystery

It was Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson (first published 1984). It was well written, but I didn't warm to the characters which is something I find important in a book. If you don't care about the characters, you can't really be bothered reading about them! That reminds me of a way you can tell if a book was well written: you wonder what happened to the characters after you finished the book ... Another problem for me with Murder in the Collective was that it seemed to have another agenda. I do like to be taken into another world by a book, but that should always be subservient to the plot. The background should be just that! I just got rather fed up with the collectives, feminists, lesbians and politics in this one.

Next, for a complete change of pace, I read Right Ho, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse. This was amusing and there were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments but although I know Wodehouse wrote many books in this series I don't think the joke can sustain full-length novels. Bertie Wooster is a well-meaning upperclass twit, while Jeeves his manservant far outclasses him in intellect as well as social awareness, but I would have enjoyed this far more as a short story. It was also impossible to read without hearing the voices of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry from the TV series, but if anything that enhanced the book! Ironically it was after reading this and not Murder in the Collective that I was starting to be seized with revolutionary fervour ... Bertie and his ilk are woken up with a cup of tea in bed every morning, but that luxury of course means that someone else had to get up and do it for him. And why on earth does a grown man need assistance in getting dressed or running his bath? Similar thoughts always strike me with any of these country house novels or even the Lucia books, but then I suppose without the idle classes many novels would never have been written.

My book for Sunday was The Innocence of Father Brown by G K Chesterton. I had heard of these detective stories before but had never read any. It made a change of pace to read some short stories instead of a full-length novel. I enjoyed these and Father Brown's deductive reasoning was impressive.