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30 November 2009 @ 02:08 am
If you enjoyed Phyllida...  
There's less than two months to go until the long-awaited release (January 26!) of my second novel, Pride/Prejudice. Depending on whom you ask, I’m supposed to fill these last nervous weeks running around like a headless chicken blogging at the top of my lungs (“generating buzz”); working modestly and dutifully at my day job while pretending nothing special is happening in my life (yeah, right); or starting my third novel (um, you do realize that between now and the New Year I have to write a detailed conference paper proposal, an article or two for the Huffington Post, a Christmas piece for Bookreporter.com, an Author Spotlight for the Friskbiskit blog, prepare a couple of other guest-blog posts just in case I get lucky, think up short, snappy and insightful answers for the HarperCollins “best of 2009” questions and, oh yes, work dutifully at my day job?)

The choice seems obvious: it’s headless chicken time!

However, in the interest of retaining a few friends, I thought I’d do something less obnoxious, and praise another author’s work. Most of us have experienced those surreal recommendations from Amazon and Netflix (my favorite was Netflix’s kind thought that since I’d given Monty Python’s Life of Brian five stars, I’d naturally not want to miss Jackass 2). But these are computer generated, much like those algorithms that brought us last Easter’s “LGBT content = porn” equation on Amazon. This recommendation, by contrast, is from a human being, a woman I met at the Jane Austen Society book group, who read Phyllida and liked it, and who therefore thought I’d like Sarah Caudwell. She was right.

Probably most of you educated and intelligent readers have long since discovered Ms. Caudwell and the four brilliant, witty mysteries she had time to write before her early death from cancer. But if not, you’re in for a treat. Read them in order. The first is called Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981), followed by The Shortest Way to Hades (1985), The Sirens Sang of Murder (1989) and The Sybil in Her Grave (2000).

Comparisons are odorous, as Shakespeare told us, and comparing my own efforts with those of a master, a conveniently dead one, no doubt reeks of hubris, or something equally putrid. But so what? Hold your nose and enjoy a good read—or four. I’m not saying I’m as good as Caudwell, only that what is good in my writing is even better in hers. Language, style and, above all, that ever so slightly skewed reality of comedy. It’s not as far removed as fantasy; it’s just not quite a photographic representation either.

Caudwell’s world is that of Oxford-educated (with one louche, slang-speaking Cantabrigian) barristers in Lincoln’s Inn, specialists in tax law, during the “present” of 1980 (Adonis) through 1999. It’s a world that has something of P.G. Wodehouse, of Rumpole of the Bailey, of Noel Coward and perhaps Oscar Wilde. The crime/mystery element, although well-constructed, is less important than the style. The stories are told primarily through letters and telexes (what Wikipedia calls “distancing devices”); the sex of the narrator, Professor Hilary Tamar, is never revealed; and the conversation is elaborate, ironic and full of literary allusions. Like all great comic writers, Caudwell creates her own signature mood and self-contained universe.

This is a world in which women share strategies for getting beautiful young men into bed:

“one should make no admission, in the early stages, of the true nature of one’s objectives, but should instead profess a deep admiration for their fine souls and splendid intellects … if I could get the lovely creature into conversation, I must make no comment on the excellence of his profile and complexion but should apply myself to showing a sympathetic interest in his hopes, dreams and aspirations.”

and announce success by quoting Lovelace, the rapist villain of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: “The deed is done—Clarissa lives.”

In Adonis, the fact that the young man in question appears to be involved in a serious same-sex relationship does not deter our heroine from her pursuit (she takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis), nor, ultimately, does it inhibit his enthusiastic capitulation.

I confess to having read only the first book so far. I’m trying to prolong my pleasure, to stretch out my enjoyment of this finite four-book series, instead of devouring it all over one long, debauched Thanksgiving weekend. But I don’t hesitate to recommend them all. Like Jane Austen’s six published novels, with the Juvenilia and fragments, each work is made all the more valuable because of its rarity. Whatever faults may lie in Caudwell’s other novels, I look forward to discovering even greater pleasures, and wish you the same.
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on November 30th, 2009 08:42 am (UTC)
I adored you first book, so you know I will get the next one... and then I will stare at it, being unable to open it to read it because I the Reader will wonder .. I dont want to fail as Reader...

ann_amalieann_amalie on November 30th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
I hope you're just getting into the comic spirit. How can you fail as a reader?

I'm thrilled that you loved my first book. I hope you'll like my next one, but I'll still value you as a reader if you don't.

And just in case you think I'm being too nicey-nicey, I assure you there are people who have "failed" as readers (im not-so-h o)--for example, the ones who read Phyllida and claimed I think rape is "no big deal" or that I lack "language skills." (You can see these "interesting" interpretations of my writing in the Amazon Customer Reviews).

But Pride/Prejudice is not a sequel to Phyllida. The story follows Austen's, and I've tried to keep the writing somewhere between my own natural style and Austen's as well. I wanted to something a little bit different...

Edited at 2009-11-30 09:47 pm (UTC)
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on November 30th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
to fail as a Reader .. thats when my brain doesnt get it, or I am unable to enjoy the book. It has to do with some of my disabilaties to a certain degree, and part of it is that since I adored the first book so much, that if the new book doesnt evoke the same response from my reading viewpoint.

Its not a Does Not Meet Expectations moment, but, more of a my brain doesnt support the moment.

The bottom line is that its not an Author issue but my own issue.

And for those Readers who put more into your writing that you do (grin) they must have had some pages stuck together. You have great language skills, which is why I had such fun with Phyllida. Pon Rep!
ann_amalieann_amalie on November 30th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC)
It sounds a lot like just being in the right mood. Like the Sarah Caudwell books I was talking about. My friend first recommended them months ago, but I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read them--don't know why, I just knew I wasn't. This time I was ready.

And sometimes you start a book and it isn't working for you and you put it away and take it up later and it's right.

Thanks for the endorsement of my "language skills." What can I say--if you've got 'em, flaunt 'em ;)
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on December 1st, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
you got it!

plus I can see you hanging around the Grammarium, loitering to see if anyone drops a few verb you can use.