BOOK & BLOG
March 24, 2008
Books of the Week: CRAMPTON HODNET, by Barbara Pym and TO HELL AND BACK by Lilith Saintcrow
I couldn’t have read two more different books if I’d set out to create a contrast. Barbara Pym is the goddess of small things, and Lilith Saintcrow rocks out with violence and action and the pain of her protagonist. But both books were enjoyable.
Barbara Pym writes about England of forty years ago. Most often, nothing much happens on the surface in her books. The church gets a new vicar. A middle-aged woman retrims her hat and buys a new dress. Lady Something does (or doesn’t) show up to open the village fete. But underneath the surface, there’s emotional upheaval aplenty. Hearts get broken, and mend. People face up to the unpleasant truth, or dodge it resolutely. If you like Jane Austen, you’ll probably like Barbara Pym; if you like Miss Reed, the chance of enjoying Pym’s work is even higher.
All these regular features of a Pym book are evident in CRAMPTON HODNET, though it was completed by someone else after her death. I believe CRAMPTON HODNET was written early in Pym’s career and never finished by her. There’s a big dose of Pym’s wry humor and the richness of her characters is evident even though she didn’t write every word of this book. Buy something of Pym’s on Abebooks for a dollar and give it try.
TO HELL AND BACK is a completely different kettle of fish, both in content and style. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Lilith Saintcrow, and she’s really a lot of fun very lively, and full of conversation, a kind of sparkling person. THAB is the last book in her Dante Valentine series. This is a high adventure series set in a fantasy world of the future, and you have to run with Saintcrow’s vision without stopping and demanding an explanation. You’ll pick it up as you go along, I promise. Dante Valentine is a dramatic character; she’s well-armed both psychically and physically, and she’s a very dangerous woman. She has almost endless adventures, most of them ending up in her pain and anguish, but there’s plenty here to keep the reader asking, “What next?” The backbone of this series is Dante’s love affair with the demon Japhrimel, and what it costs both of them. I’m sorry to see the series end, but eager to see what the series will be about.
At this time of year, we’re luckier than our northern neighbors, though we won’t feel so fortunate in July and August. I’m typing at my computer with the office door open, and through it I can hear the twitter of birds and the distant bark of a dog. It’s warm enough to have the door open, and it’s sunny enough for the twittering. The jonquils have finished blooming, the red buds are open and the spirea is gorgeous. My cannas are beginning to shoot up.
On the downside, parts of the yard need mowing, the parts that contain patches of clover.
I’m frankly in a nostalgic mood today, as I remember past Easters. Our church has a pot luck luncheon every Easter; we’re small enough to do that, and it’s a highlight of our year. But when our children were little, it was an incredible hassle to get the kids dressed in their finest for church, which lasts extra-long on this most special of days; then we’d have to hurry to our house to fetch our dish, and then hurry to the home hosting the pot-luck. Marshalling the children, we’d go down the long drive to the house, and find a place to put our food offering. Then the children would do an Easter egg hunt in the woods, coming back with baskets heaped full of eggs both real and plastic.
Then we’d all eat, and the children would be cross and grumpy and yet have a sugar high from the candy in the plastic eggs. Eventually, we’d get to take our dish and our children home for the blessed relief of shedding our good clothes and putting the children down for a nap. I both loved and hated this annual ritual.
It’s not such a hassle now. I can only hope that our sons go to church somewhere (though our Army son says he’ll be a hundred miles from any church on Sunday), but we remaining three will get duded up for the service, and then we’ll go to the home where the pot luck will be, and our daughter will have to leave early for ball practice, but we’ll stay to visit. It’ll be fun, and we’ll enjoy seeing everyone, and in the end . . . we’ll be glad to head home for the blessed relief of shedding our good clothes and enjoying our accustomed activities.
At least that part’s stayed the same.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris