Autumn is one of the more unusual books I have read lately. It’s the first of a planned quartet of books, one for each season. It’s British and Brexit and divide amongst people is one of the things it’s interested in. It’s also interested in time, and the cycles in which things repeat, but really, most strongly, I think this book is a 260 page long poem. It’s got plot, and it’s written in prose, but the imagery is SO STRONG and the words are so lyrical that it feels like poetry.
Set aside some time and find a quiet place and maybe a cup of tea and enjoy this book.
What’s it about? Maisie Dobbs is an independent woman in 1930s London. She is a private investigator, which lends itself well to a mystery series. This is the eighth book in the series; pro-fascist groups are on the rise in London (and Britain in general). Maisie is hired by a national security organization to keep an eye on a private college in Oxford that emphasizes peace in all its teachings. Not because they want to avoid war, but because the security services are worried the pro-fascist factions have infiltrated it. She is supposed to do some light investigating and keep the right people apprised of what she discovers. Of course, the college’s head is murdered and Maisie needs to figure out who did it.
Why should you read it? A Lesson in Secrets is the first in the series that I’d read; that was a mistake. There are a number of characters and a couple of ongoing plots that were hard to keep track of simply because I wasn’t familiar with the previous seven books. That said, I liked the tone and crisp efficiency of the book and the main character. These are People Who Get Things Done. I think that’s what mysteries are ultimately about: taking a messy situation and putting it in order. This one fills its mission well, and I do love a bit of 1930s London & Oxford. I will definitely go back and read the previous books.
What’s it about? I first heard of I Capture the Castle on the boards of the Go Fug Yourself book club, where it was described as “people having romantical problems during wartime.” It was published in 1948. It’s about a poor family, the Mortmains, living on not very much in an old castle that they’d secured a long-term lease on back when their father’s famous book was still paying the bills. An elderly, wealthy neighbor dies and his heirs are wealthy American half-brothers. The older sister, Rose, immediately sees that marrying one of them would keep the family from starving and convinces herself that she’s in love with him. It… it doesn’t work out so well.
Why should you read it?
It’s so old that it’s lack of an automatic happy ending (spoiler) is refreshing. (It’s not that the ending is unhappy. But it’s not a standard Hollywood ending either.) The Mortmains are charming and artistic, living the Bohemian lifestyle that you’d expect from poor artists: the father is a writer, as is Cassandra – the younger sister who’s POV the story is written from – Topaz, the step-mother and former model/current painter. Rose is the one who wants to not worry about where their next meal is coming from all the time. Ms Smith’s love of the English countryside also comes through loud and clear – the setting is amazing and lovingly described.
Overall, there’s so much affection in this book for the place and the characters and the impossible situation they’re in – really, where *is* their next meal going to come from – that you can’t help but also enjoy it. (In fact it’s a bit odd, because the book contrasts affection and love so very well. But the book’s love and affection of everything and everyone in it is what makes it so wonderful. Hm.)