Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dress Down Sunday: Book of 1932



the book: Darkness at Pemberley by TH White

published 1932




LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES





Meanwhile, darkness had fallen. Kingdom stood alone in the gathering dusk of the old house whilst the great hall sank about him imperceptibly through waves and waves of gloom. The invisibility welled up from the distant corners and sank downwards from the domed ceiling, gradually stealing its last glints from the chandelier. At last only the silent ghost of a white moustache hung suspended in the night…. 


Outside was the silence and tangible darkness of the passage, leading, further off, to the hall’s absorbing void, and to all the great and little deserted clocks of the household, ticking in separate persistence: unwatched, tenacious, uninforming. All the wainscots of all the rooms concerted about him in their stealthy rustle. The heart beat slower and slower… 

[Later]

Buller found everybody awake when he got back.
Kingdom was in the passage. Elizabeth was sitting with Wilder and Charles in the latter’s room. She was in green pyjamas and a man’s thick blue dressing gown.

Buller said heartily: “Well, how are the refugees?”

“Perishing and terrified,” said Elizabeth. “What was it all about?”






observations: This month, Rich Westwood has chosen the year 1932 for the classic crime meme on his Past Offences blog. (See the fascinating previous roundups of entries: 1963 in June, 1939 in July, 1952 in August, 1958 in September). And he asked for spooky entries if possible, to mark Halloween.

Well, spooky is one word for this book. Another is ‘preposterous’. But I’ve done my best to choose some suitable passages…

TH White is best known for The Once and Future King, his sequence of books on King Arthur, and the basis for the Disney film The Sword in the Stone. This was an earlier work, perhaps when he was looking for the right genre. It’s fair to say crime fiction probably wasn’t his genre…

The book starts well. There are two deaths in and around a Cambridge college. There is some funny business with a gramophone, which seems to show when one of the crimes occurred, and there are fully 3 map/plans: showing the college, a don’s room, and the position of the college in Cambridge (allowing us to work out that the fictional St Bernard’s lives on the site of the real-life Queens’ College). We get this truly faultless line: 


“Why,” pursued the Inspector, “did the Master, who is a drug addict, post a letter to Beedon containing a blank sheet of paper with his signature in invisible ink?”

But then, less than a third of the way through, we find out who did the murder, and how, and why. We are told that it will be impossible to prove the case, and wham, the only partial witness – the porter – is dead too.

Now the book goes completely bonkers. The action moves to Pemberley in Derbyshire, ancestral home of the Darcy family from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. The descendants of Darcy & Elizabeth Bennett – a brother and sister called Charles and Elizabeth – are friends of the investigating policeman from Cambridge, and via a plot device I can’t bear to describe, the College murderer turns his attention to the house and family, and puts all of them under threat. There is a lot of creeping around the house in the dark, as above, and ghostly attacks in locked rooms. Eventually they work out how this is being done, and think they can catch the murderer out. But he escapes and everyone careers round the countryside in fast cars, before ending up back at the house for a ridiculous climax.

There were two bits of this farrago that I particularly enjoyed. After one beloved character is murdered, Charles comforts Elizabeth (who is desperately upset) by saying ‘He was 69. He couldn’t have lived very much longer.’ (This IS a young man’s book). And Elizabeth later, lying in bed, has this moment of self-searching: ‘she felt her arms in the darkness. They were empty. She was getting old, she supposed. She was getting fat. She must bant.’

(To bant is to go on a diet.)

The next line is: 'At this moment she became conscious that there was somebody in the room.'

If you feel from this blogpost that you know for sure whether you would want to read this book or not, then I have done my job. 


**** ADDED LATER: To redress the balance: There are more enthusiastic reviews of the book on Sergio's Tipping My Fedora blog, and on Yvette's in so many words. (Thanks Prashant for pointing me in the right direction).

The pictures are all from the film Palm Beach Story, starring the queen of pyjama-wearing, Claudette Colbert – I particularly admire the outfit in the 3rd picture, entirely made from items picked up around her train carriage, so including the towel and pyjamas. It featured in a very early blog entry, here, and you can see her in lounging pyjamas in this entry.

18 comments:

  1. Is it Sunday already? I've slept for over 30 hours! I'm hoping to get a qualifier read this month for Rich, but we'll see

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    1. Oh blimey, I got my blogger scheduling wrong, and the first I knew of it was when I got notification of your comment! It's a good thing I'm not responsible for anything more serious than writing about books, so my mistakes aren't too disastrous! I'm late in the month for mine, but glad I got one in, even such a strange one. You can still do it!

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  2. Moira - Yes, you have indeed. I agree that White builds a suitably spooky atmosphere, and the first part of the book got my interest. But....yes, you've done your job I'd say. Oh, I do love those 'photos of Colbert.

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    1. Isn't she marvellous? She is one of my favourite filmstars of all time, though not so much remembered as some others. Funny, smart, beautiful, and able to do amazing physical comedy.
      And looked good in pyjamas....

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  3. Moira, Yvette wrote about this book (with a link to her review) on her blog a couple of days ago, so that makes two of you, and two formidable opinions I can't ignore. Besides, I like reading Gothic and ghostly stories.

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    1. Thanks Prashant, I'll go and look that up right away, I'll be very interested to know what someone else made of it. It's certainly a fun read in its way.

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    2. Prashant, I have added links to a couple of other reviews, thanks for the tipoff.

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  4. I did see Yvette's recent post mentioning this book, and I was intrigued because of the author. I don't think you are alone in your opinion, Moira. Just different strokes for different folks. Bev at My Reader's Block liked it OK but described it as having a split personality. I think that is what I would not care for... switching from one mode to another. Other reviewers at Goodreads comment on that. It isn't too long though, so I may try it someday.

    Bev's review is here: http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com/2014/01/darkness-at-pemberley-review.html

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    1. Oh thanks Tracy, I'd love to read another review of it and will go and have a look. It's obviously one that divides people - as you say, it's the sudden turn into another kind of book that bothered me, though other people loved that.

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  5. I'm not going to raed it as I'm standing under my TBR avalanche, waiting for it to come crashing down on me, but I will watch the BBC production on PBS tonight.
    Then I'll decide if I like it or not.

    I have read criticisms of the book, but I'll take my chances with the TV episodes.

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    1. Kathy - I think that's Death Comes to Pemberley, the murder mystery based on PD James: this is a different and much older book. I hope you enjoy the TV version - I wasn't that keen on the PD James book, but quite enjoyed the film as a separate entitity...

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    1. Yes, I'm very glad some people enjoyed it, but it just didn't do it for me...

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  7. I did enjoy the White book (thanks for the link to my review), very much as a game of two halves - i took it as a bit of a lark and a highly unusual one (oh, and I love THE PALM BEACH STORY) - I suspect 69 did seem like a venerable age in the early 1930s ... always amazed how old people my age look in photos from the 30s and 40s! Very glad that is no longer the case!

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    1. I think lark-y books (and I think that's a very good description of this one) can be very divisive in that way - if you're in the mood, or it works for you, it's a good read. I can absolutely see that. And at least we can agree on the wonderful Palm Beach Story!

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  8. I too felt the same way as you. 'Bonkers' is spot on. I've never read a book quite like this one, which in a sense makes it remarkable, but....

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    1. I love the way this one is dividing people - I think we all agree that it's a bit loopy, but that seems to be *why* some people like it...

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