Book: A Severed Head, by Iris Murdoch
Genre and Year of Publication: Fiction, 1961
Where I got it: The Open Door second hand book shop
Length: 205 pages
Briefly, it’s not a murder mystery, despite the title! It’s a look at marriage, adultery, incest, and “love” amongst a group of people who keep forming and re-forming liaisons.
Comments: I first encountered Iris Murdoch’s work in a philosophy undergrad class, and did not realise for some time that the novelist of the same name is in fact the same person. But Murdoch’s novels – this one at any rate – are highly philosophical. What is love? Can relationships be permanent? Where does one draw the fine line between use and abuse of people? Why do we strain to keep others in our possession? This novel starts out with a classic and rather simple situation of a man, his wife, and his mistress, but quickly becomes very complex as they break up with each other and realign in new relationships, which in turn break up and the same people form yet new liaisons, or return to previous ones… who will “love” whom next? What is “true” love, if such a thing exists?
I found this novel gripping, but was glad that it ended when it did, as much more would have been too sordid.
Challenges: Back to the Classics challenge for the category “A Classic by a Woman Author”
Book: Men at Arms, by Evelyn Waugh
Genre and Year of Publication: WW II Fiction, 1952
Where I got it: Lent to me by a friend (VA)
Length: 246 pages
Briefly, it follows the military career of Guy Crouchback, a 35-year-old Englishman, who enlists for the army at the outbreak of World War II, through his training period and initial posting to Senegal.
Comments: This book is full of dry wit. Allegedly based loosely on Waugh’s own war-time experience, it describes an army which is confused, chaotic, unclear about its objectives and largely operating with very, very limited information about what is going on elsewhere. Most of Crouchback’s time with his division is spent awaiting orders to move elsewhere. There is an element of boarding school to some of the adventures, and to the whole tone of upholding the ancient traditions of the regiment. Waugh’s makes his point about the pointlessness of the war with humour and lightness of touch. Crouchback is a likeable character, and the reader is on his side when his time in West Africa ends in his being sent home in disgrace.
This is the first book of a trilogy, and I would certainly read the two subsequent volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender.
There are many reviews online; I like the one at http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/1251/Men%20at%20Arms.htm
Challenges: Back to the Classics Challenge for the category “A Wartime Classic”
Book: The Murder at Sissingham Hall, by Clara Benson (Angela Marchmont Mystery #1)
Genre and Year of Publication: Cozy Murder Mystery, written prior to 1965 but not published till 2013 (it seems?)
Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)
Length: 212 pages
Briefly, it’s a traditional English country house whodunnit.
Comments: Clara Benson, the author, lived from 1890 to 1965. She wrote several books, but considered writing to be a hobby so did not have them published (according to Goodreads. I wonder if there’s a deeper story there?) After her death, her family had the books published.
The Murder at Sissingham Hall is the first in a series featuring Angela Marchmont, a woman who just happens to find herself in circumstances which cause her to play the role of detective. Here, she is one of the guests at the country weekend when the rich owner of the house is murdered… Everyone has a motive… things are not what they seem… her powers of deduction and observation lead to the truth being unveiled at the end…
If you like this genre, you’ll like this. Personally I will be looking out for more Angela Marchmont books.
Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Book from a series”; ebook reading challenge