Monday, August 4, 2014

I Love Literary Allusions

I've been reading A Taste for Death by P.D.James. It's been a long time since I enjoyed one of her novels and I'm wondering if, in the past, I ever took much notice of the way she is constantly bringing other authors into her story. I doubt it but this time the literary allusions delighted me and added a whole new dimension to the reading experience.

Appropriate for Austen in August -

"'His temper might, perhaps, be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty he was the husband of a very silly woman' 'Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennett.'
'Sense and Sensibility, Mr Palmer. And when one meets Barbara Berowne the bias doesn't seem so unaccountable.' 
'Sense and Sensibility? Are you sure? 
The scene of the murder is St Matthew's Church, Paddington where the bodies of Sir Paul Berowne, recently retired Minister of the Crown and Harry Mack, an alcoholic vagrant, are found in the vestry with their throats brutally slashed. An unhappy event for the dispirited Father Barnes , already struggling to cope with the disdain of some of his new parish .
"His most recent library book had been a Barbara Pym. He had read with envious disbelief the gentle and ironic story of a village parish where the curates were entertained, fed, and generally spoilt by the female members of the congregation. Mrs McBride would soon put a stop to anything like that at St Matthews. Indeed, she had put a stop to it."
The bodies were discovered by Miss Emily Wharton , a lonely 65-yr-old spinster whose life revolves around her Wednesdays and Fridays, dusting the chairs and doing the flowers at St Matthew's. She could have stepped straight out of a Pym novel.

Solving the case is in the hands of Commander Adam Dalgleish, a detective with a love of architecture and a talent for writing poetry, and his team, the upper-crust DCI Massingham and, new to the scene, DI Kate Miskin, a working class girl determined to succeed. She has a boyfriend who she asks to recommends books..

"At present her bedtime reading was Elizabeth Bowen. The life of her heroines, their private incomes, their charming houses in St John's Wood, their uniformed parlourmaids and formidable aunts, above all the sensitivity of their emotions amazed her. 'Not enough washing-up, that's their trouble,'she told Alan, having in mind the author as well as her characters.

At over 600 pages A Taste for Death has a great deal more depth than an ordinary police procedural crime novel. Tension and conflict between social classes is one of the major themes in the book, not only simmering between Kate and Massingham, but coming to the boil within the family of Paul Berowne and their servants, none of whom are very pleasant people. As the investigation proceeds ugly and dangerous secrets are exposed beneath the veneer of prosperous gentility.

It was perfect reading for a very wet winter weekend and I will be reading more P D James. Loved it!

1 comment:

  1. I remember allusions to Trollope as well, in her books. As I remember, Dalgleish is a fan and tends to bond with other readers. This is my favorite of her books I think.