The Sunday Salon – Reader Satisfaction

I’m in the middle of two very different books – Going Into a Dark House, a book of short stories by Jane Gardam and Messenger of Truth, a Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jacqueline Winspear. Both are giving me a lot of reader satisfaction; they take me out of myself and into their worlds, peopled by believable characters, set in realistic locations, and with plots that are detailed and complicated enough to keep me wondering how everything will turn out and hoping for a sequel.

I’ve only recently begun to appreciate short stories and still prefer the longer short stories in preference to those of just a few pages. The plus factor is reading short stories is that you can read one in just one session, making it a complete experience. Going Into a Dark House is a collection of eight short stories, all long enough to satisfy my requirements. The title story, which I haven’t read yet is the longest and is in three parts. Death figures quite a lot in these stories, in different guises and also reflections on age, youth and nostalgia. The first story is Blue Poppies which begins: “My mother died with her hand in the hand of the Duchess.” You know at the start that there is a death; the rest of the story leads up to this death and its effect on the daughter.  I like the way Jane Gardam writes, conjuring such vivid images that it seems as those I’m actually witnessing the scene. For example the blue poppies are

… just like Cadbury’s chocolate papers crumpled up under the tall black trees in a sweep, the exact colour, lying about among their pale hairy leaves in the muddy earth, raindrops scattering them with a papery noise. 

Zoo-Zoo is a strange little tale about a dying nun who is taken by two of her fellow nuns to a nursing home to end her days. She is not as senile as they suppose. My favourite story so far in this collection is Dead Children, which I think is absolutely brilliant. How Jane Gardam can write twelve pages about such a deceptively simple meeting of a mother and her two children and infuse them with such depth of meaning and emotion is just beyond me.  The twist at the end makes an ordinary everyday event amazingly extraordinary.

Messenger of Truth is a much longer book and my reading has been spread out over a few sessions already. It is a detective story set in 1930/1 in England. The artist Nick Bassington-Hope has fallen to his death from the scaffolding whilst installing his work at an art gallery. The police believe it is an accident, but his twin sister Georgina isn’t convinced and hires Maisie Dobbs to investigate his death. Along with Nick’s death there is also the mystery of the missing piece of art work that was to be the centre of the exhibition.

I’m just over half-way through this novel and I think I’m going to have to abandon other books I have on the go in order to finish it. Maisie’s methods of investigation take her to the art gallery, to Dungeness where Nick lived in a converted railway carriage and to visit his family at their home near Tenterden. After questioning his friends and seeing Nick’s paintings she becomes convinced the mystery of his death is related to the missing painting and that this is connected to Nick’s experiences as a war artist during the First World War.

I like the way the mystery is set in the cultural and social setting of this period, between the two World Wars. England is a place where there is a great divide between the wealthy and the poor. Maisie’s assistant Billy Beale is struggling to accept that people have money to spend on artwork when others can’t afford food and medicine. The realities of life are highlighted when Billy’s family catch diphtheria and his two year old baby, Lizzie is taken into hospital. The lingering effects of the war are starkly and shockingly described in Georgina’s reminiscences about the treatment during the war of men suffering from shell-shock.

 Maisie is a an independent woman living on her own, working out her relationship with Andrew Dene, who hoped to marry her. Their relationship is floundering as she is absorbed in her work and doesn’t want to give it up and conform to the accepted role of being a doctor’s wife. She is discontent and is seeking a quality out of life that she cannot quite define. She finds the thrill of investigation outweighs her desire to help others. It is the search for truth that motivates and thrills her.

Both books are immensely satisfying.

14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – Reader Satisfaction”

  1. I keep saying I will read more of the Maisie Dobbs’ books; I even have the second and third on my shelves and then never quite getting round to it. I will try again. But as for Jane Gardam, she is one of a very small band of writer’s whose every word I read. I first discovered her as a writer for children and teenagers and then grew with her as she branched out. I would never claim (as you well know) to be a short story reader, but she is the exception. I not only read the, I own them. Have you read any of her novels? If you don’t know ‘The Queen of the Tambourines’ then do please read it; it is superb.

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  2. Ann, I’ve only read ‘Old Filth’ and ‘The Sidmouth Letters’ by Jane Gardam. ‘The Queen of the Tambourines’ is on my wishlist. I’ve missed the second and third Maisie Dobbs’ books, but although there are references to what has gone before this fourth book does stand on its own.

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  3. My husband has read the first Maisie Dobb book, but I haven’t had a chance to yet. I love the idea of the time period the books are set in.

    I prefer novel length books as well, but I have come to appreciate the short story more, especially recently. Into a Dark House sounds like something I might like.

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  4. I loved Messenger of Truth. And, then I was lucky enough to have Jacquelyn Winspear visit my library recently. I really appreciate the opportunity to hear the author talk about the book. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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  5. Aren’t the Maisie Dobbs books great? I have to get a hold of the latest one. I’ve enjoyed them all so far. And Jane Gardam is someone I’d like to read; I’m glad her stories are so enjoyable.

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  6. When I was a kid, I always preferred anthologies and short stories. I never knew when I’d have to put something down, so it was easier to be able to read in short chunks. Now, I prefer longer tales that can really pull me in for a good while.

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  7. So glad you’re enjoying the Maisie Dobbs books. It’s one series I really love! I’m very intrigued by Maisie and will be curious to see if she ever hooks up with anyone. And I really should try Jane Gardam–other people have recommended her to me as well.

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  8. I’ve yet to read any of the Maisie Dobbs novels, but they sound like the type of book I’d like. I, too, have just recently begun to read short stories. I still prefer novels, but I have come to appreciate short stories more. I recently read Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood, which I enjoyed immensely.

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  9. I just finished Messenger of Truth last night! I enjoy these Maisie Dobbs stories but the first one remains my favorite.

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