Sunday, 24 December 2017

False Starts

Last week I started, and abandoned, King Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine, and Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. Both started with quite intriguing setups. Carpet with a young rather privileged woman with something a little wrong with her heart, who doesn't have to work and takes taxis everywhere, deciding to take the tube as an adventure. She goes wrong, gets caught up in the rush hour, has to stand, and her heart gives out. Cut to a youngish man who inherited a big old empty school building by a tube line and who's obsessed with the underground, living in two rooms in his school and renting a few others out while writing the occasional article so he can buy tickets to other cities with underground systems and travel on them.

Piccadilly is older – 1930s – and starts with a young man, also rather privileged and apparently able bodied, who one day stands to inherit the ancestral estate currently held by his uncle (his father, the younger son, died in the first world war). Meanwhile he lives off his mother who lives off the allowance the uncle makes her, and resents the uncle for getting in the way of 'his' inheritance. He's also in love with a nightclub dancer, who he's told all about his inheritance but not that his uncle might live for years, or indeed marry and sire an heir of his own.

And that was where my problems with the book started. Dancer is legitimately cross that golden boy has made out the situation to be a bit different from what it is, but the book portrays her as a nasty little gold digger. No allowance has been made for the fact she's been working since she was 14 (possibly younger, but we hear about her career at 14) and this hulking great man child is only now approaching the uncle for a job because he wants to get married. 

Were I that 19-year-old dancer’s mother or older sister my unpleasant suspicion would be that this lazy toff was trying to trick her into compromising herself so she’ll have to marry him (this possibility is not even mooted. Obviously the upper classes are naturally chivalrous and young girls ought not to suspect them). Even possibly, if uncle falls through, he thinks he can live off her. 

Then golden boy goes down to his uncle’s country place as a guest to discuss possible future employment, spends much of his time thinking ‘all this should be mine really’ and finally sneaks into his uncle's room late at night with a gun, no real plan and (as his uncle acidly points out after he's caught him) a high probability of getting get nothing out of it but a broken neck from the hangman.

We are meant to dislike his uncle for despising him and yet Uncle is clearly right to despise him.
Nephew is a waste of space. Not even an amusing what-ho-fellow-well-met waste of space like a character in Wodehouse. Those eggs and beans at the Drones may have bitten the ears of wealthy uncles and borrowed fivers from Wooster, but they did occasionally have a crack at a job, and best of all they knew (in Wodehouse’s words) that they were silly asses and hoped you wouldn't mind. Certainly none of them would ever have dreamt of murder. This chap's lack of self awareness and maddening sense of entitlement has me hoping someone shoots him. 

Unfortunately my distaste for that character infected the other book and my ability to feel sympathy for the young man who inherited the empty school (who to be fair isn’t complaining about anything and enjoys his life) and the young woman who collapsed (which is especially undeserved, because she wasn’t well) took a knock.

So both of those were set aside, to be resumed at some indefinite point, and I picked up Christopher Isherwood’s The World in the Evening. Another well to do young man in the 30s, but a different sort of book. A more generous and self-aware protagonist.

And of course because I really liked it, I don’t have that much to say about it. Maddening. 

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