Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Groaning Spinney by Gladys Mitchell



published 1950


Grroaning Spinney 1


‘I shall wait up, I think. What would you like to do?’ groaning spinney 3
‘Knit,’ replied Mrs. Bradley. She went up to her room and returned with a repulsive bundle of dead-looking natural-coloured wool. ‘Do you think purple or puce would look better as a contrast with this?’
groaning spinney 2
‘Good heavens!’ said Deborah, expressing simple horror. ‘It’s bad enough as it is!’

Mrs. Bradley grinned amiably and set to work on huge wooden needles to fabricate what appeared to be some sort of shawl, a type of garment which, needless to say, she never wore.






observations: Mrs Bradley’s clothes are always a joy – elsewhere in this book she goes out (to view a dead body) wearing ‘a ski-ing suit she had borrowed from [niece] Deborah, enormous gauntlet gloves of her own, and Jonathan’s motor-cycling helmet’. How practical. In earlier entries on Mitchell books we featured a wonderful attempted (failed) makeover scene from Laurels are Poison and a really excellent Sherlock Holmes costume party in Watson’s Choice.

The last time I read a Mrs Bradley book – A Hearse On May-Day – I complained that the first half was highly enjoyable, and then ‘nothing much seems to happen till suddenly the solution to a rather dull mystery is announced, to nobody’s great surprise.’ This one is similar, except the second half consists of a lot of activity that leads nowhere.

There is one scene, about two-thirds in, which seems to have something missing – I don’t know if this is a problem with the Kindle formatting, but an exciting attack and defence moment, two people struggling, ends like this:
‘You be damned for a liar!’ he said. ‘Of course I haven’t been in Oxford. Get out of here and go home!’
The next line is a different scene, different people, talking about a different incident. You never know with Mitchell, but I think something has gone wrong there.

The first half IS splendid – Christmas in the country, houseparty in the big house, servants, visitors coming and going, poison in the curry, snow blocking the roads. There are poison pen letters, which would have fitted in well with our CiB meme last year. Of course, everyone agrees, it must be a woman writing them, probably ‘that Mrs. La-di-dah that does for Mr. Fullalove.’ Again with the gender roles, I was surprised to find this: ‘Aspirin, of course, suggested the presence of a woman.’

There’s a great post-war rationing atmosphere: a pig-club, a shortage of whisky, and this about Christmas presents:
‘That awful Amy Curtis has sent me an awful handbag,’ she announced. ‘Do you think I could send her that book token for a guinea which Myra Standish sent me and didn’t sign, and buy myself some stockings with the money? I’ve had dozens of book-tokens this Christmas and no stockings at all.’
(As we know from other posts, stockings were hard to come by just then, and this entry deals exactly with the question of giving them for Christmas.)

Mrs Bradley is always an omniscient, multi-skilled genius, but she excels herself this time by expressing a comma in her voice:
‘You’ll have to leave your digging for to-day, I’m afraid,’ she said gravely. ‘The police, you know. Ed Brown was shot at, just after half-past twelve.’  
The comma indicated in her voice prevented the statement from being a lie, but this fine shade of meaning was lost upon her hearers.
The investigation seems to go on for months, apparently to accommodate some nature writing about the countryside, which I found pointless and annoying, but the book is well worth it for the first half.

I wonder if Mrs Bradley being quite so bad at knitting was a joking comment on those two arch-knitters and sleuths, Miss Marple and Miss Silver?

The shawls above come from the much-loved Free Vintage Knitting Pattern site .













14 comments:

  1. Moira - Gladys Mitchell certainly did have an unusual style, so as you say, you don't always know. But it does seem that something's missing from that passage. On another not, I do like Mrs. Bradley as a character, and you're right; that outfit she chooses is priceless isn't it? The setup for this story is vintage GA, too. Glad you enjoyed the first half of it so much.

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    1. 'Vintage GA' is a great description of this one Margot: all the key features and a few of the bad points....

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  2. I do find these novels a bit unsatisfactory, even though I like Mrs Bradley as a character. However one that I remember as being really good is The Rising of the Moon,

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    1. I read some of them 20 years ago and they just annoyed me because they didn't tie up loose ends, the plots were ludicrous, half of it was unexplained - I preferred Christie, Sayers and Allingham, who were comparatively neat and tidy. But now I find I enjoy Mitchell if I just give way to it, and have different expectations.

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  3. You've got your Mitchell, I've got my Ted Lewis!

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    1. I don't think they'll be swapping covers any time soon!

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  4. It's interesting that so many books of this type and of their area seem to fall into this pattern of an interesting set up that then leads nowhere fast in terms of the actual investigation (and yes, I'm looking at you Dame Ngaio Marsh).

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    1. Yes, I agree, it's a pattern I'm noticing with some GA books particularly. Marsh was quite famous for it wasn't she? Long central section where everyone is interviewed about where they were....

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  5. Moira, you review books with some intriguing titles which give a broad hint of what's inside; for instance, knitting fabric in this book.

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    1. Gladys Mitchell did some particularly strange titles Prashant - and lots of them, I sometimes think I will never get through them all.

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  6. I have only given Gladys Mitchell the one try so far, the one you sent me a copy of. She takes some getting used to, I think. I did recently get a copy of Watson's Choice. Interesting that this one is set at Christmas, I think there is another set around that time too... Dead Men’s Morris.

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    1. Yes, I think you're right, I like Christmas books, and I also like to do several of them around the season. So I shall look out for that one next year.

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  7. Interesting. I find the Gladys Mitchell books quite hard work and she's a bit arch for me. I think she must wear some great clothes though.

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    1. I do know what you mean - as I say in comments above, I have come round to her in later life, I have much more patience with her. But you do need patience...

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