Friday, October 19, 2007

Birds of a Feather, by Jacqueline Winspear

Anyone who writes a genteel mystery set in Twenties London must count on being compared to Golden Age detective writers, so I won't apologize for doing so. Ms. Winspear follows pretty much all the rules well and writes an intriguing, well-plotted mystery. Even Maisie's reliance on intuition is fair enough, since her intuitions are not unaccountable--indeed, they hardly seem worth the fuss given to them.

And that touches on my chief complaint with the novel, which was that it takes everything so very, very seriously. Not grimly, or darkly. Just terribly in earnest. It felt like a five-hour session with a counselor who wants you to get in touch with your innermost feelings and divulge your deepest hurts so that you can be made whole and all you can come up with is the desire to go get a hamburger.

I don't know whether this is just the author's natural style or she thinks it necessary to the difficulties of depression and post-war stress, but the people who actually wrote and lived during the time seem to have liked things a bit lighter, and to have coped more by laughing at themselves. Personally, I much prefer the occasional wry twist that makes a Christie or a Sayers novel so engaging.

Nonetheless, I did find it a compelling and even enjoyable read. I finished it up with a spatula in one hand, cooking supper. I might pick up another one of her books if it were lying out on a library table. But I probably wouldn't go hunting for it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

L'Engle's love of ideas and literature and her keen interest in the spiritual world are evident in this book. A character who quotes Euripides and Shakespeare, a seraphim who takes a purposefully vague name in order to reveal itself to humans, and discussions of the fifth dimension and the existence of tesseracts all have their place in this story of three children battling against the forces of evil to save Mr. Murry, the space traveler.
L'Engle shows a perceptive understanding of children and teenagers. Meg struggles with her faults of anger and outspokenness until she discovers that, properly channeled, these can be strengths as well. Charles Wallace, a genius with a highly developed empathic sense, learns that his pride in his understanding can be his downfall. And Calvin, the lanky and lonely teenager, finds a true home with the Murry family.
The characters of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which are fascinating. As angels, they guide the children in their search and rescue of Mr. Murry. They reminded me of a good version of the three witches in Macbeth, who keep behind the scenes but are always close at hand. The scene of the seraphim singing on the planet Uriel reminded me of the angels and saints surrounding the throne and praising God, singing without ceasing.
At the end of book, when Mr. Murry returns with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace, L'Engle describes the presence of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which as 'a flooding of joy and love that was even greater and deeper than the joy and love which were already there'. These three women have shown Meg and the others that the way to win over evil is to love. Evil stamps out originality and makes everyone and everything into a cookie-cutter sameness. Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and alone can triumph over the mesmerizing power of 'It'.
L'Engle is a universalist, and so I can't quite agree with her that love, in the sense that she is using it, is the answer to everything. But she makes an excellent point in this story that love is one of God's greatest gifts to us and is much more powerful force than evil.
I highly recommend the Crosswick Journals, which chronicle several consecutive summers in the life of L'Engle and her family. She interweaves stories of daily life with her own musings on fascinating ideas and spiritual concepts. A Circle of Quiet, the first journal, is the best.