Carrie

Carrie
By Stephen King
Narrated by Sissy Spacek
Ⓟ 2005, Simon and Schuster/Audioworks (Retail) and Recorded Books (Library)
7.5 hours
HORROR

The eponymous protagonist of Carrie is a teenage girl with some serious issues regarding her relationship with her mother and, bullying at school (LOL, How’s that for understatement!) Carrie’s mother is a religious zealot of the most extreme and fundamental kind: mentally debilitated and only able to find recourse in biblical literalism. This creates an isolated home culture in which Carrie is reared, untutored in the norms of societal living and, much less in the nuances of personal relationships. Sheltered and ignorant, Carrie is left at the mercy of her classmates and; throughout the years, she is subjected to peer cruelty and ostracism. The situation comes to a head when Carrie officially becomes a woman, unfortunately while she is showering at the high school gym. The incident sparks an ugly reaction of taunting and assault by her classmates and, Carrie starts to stress out. The home front provides no answers or succor to her problems, indeed the strain on Carrie increases as her mother inflates the religious fervor to insane dimensions. How Carrie deals with this situation, using her latent power, is the stuff of Stephen King’s horror classic.
Sissy Spacek, who starred in the 1976 movie which was based on the novel, narrated the audiobook. Owing to her familiarity with the character, a now iconic figure in the horror film genre, she is an obvious choice to read the book; however, there are some issues that, while they could be transcended in the film, could not be overlooked in the audio production. Ms Spacek slides some words around lazily in her mouth so that a word like “menstruation” becomes”menstration.” This brings to the listener’s attention that we have more of the coal miners daughter than we do a New England native from Down East. There is also a minor production issue of booth noise, specifically page turns and shuffling which distracts from the story. Overall though, Sissy Spacek tells the story well and that is no small mean feat.
Other Stuff: I borrowed a library Cd edition of Carrie from the Jackson County Library System in Southern Oregon.
This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com

This book also qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Carrie takes place in Chamberlain, Maine.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map
 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson
narrated by Bernadette Dunne
5.5 hours

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, her sister, Constance and, their uncle, Julian live reclusively in the Blackwood family home. Exactly why this is so is the story’s ostensible raison d’etre; but in realty the story showcases a number of recurrent themes in Shirley Jackson’s writings that reveal the darker natures of ourselves, barely hidden by the thin veneer of daily life. Each of the Blackwoods adopts a tenuous hold on civilized life by narrowly defining their roles in the household. Merricat’s quotidian routines involve heavily ritualized and superstitious behavior that enable her to function in and beyond the perimeter of the estate. Constance, a young woman in her early twenties, assumes the maternal role of cook, and caregiver to Uncle Julian; but she never goes beyond the garden borders. Uncle Julian, wheelchair-bound, spends his days writing and revising the family history, hung up on the chapter that fully explains what exactly happened that one night that lead to their present situation. Their neighbors in general, tease and bully Merricat; but don’t actually touch or harm her. The listener realizes that there is something wrong , sensing the undercurrent of tragedy and the shadows of secrets among the Blackwoods. There is a tension built upon not knowing why the Blackwoods live such a circumscribed existence and, a certain anxiety as the listener watches the veneer being stripped away. And then there is the horror as the truth is revealed. To write unflinchingly of what is true is no task for the weak or for cowards; it is a task for masters such as Shirley Jackson. Ms Jackson wrote fiction and; wrote scenarios that defy credibility in a realistic context; but what she wrote of in terms of human psychology and dynamics is undeniably true and; there is the horror.
Bernadette Dunne narrates We Have Always Lived in the Castle perfectly. Her character voices reflect the artifice of their civilized lives, the calming and reassuring words and platitudes uttered to keep the monsters at bay, as well as the chaos as the story explodes into a night of terror. Dulcet tones, childlike simplicity and, good natured teasing are delivered with the artifice that each character warrants; but the dark creepiness is never far from the surface.
Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle from the Blackstone Audio, Inc.
This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com

Shiver

Shiver

by Maggie Stiefvater
narrated by Jenna Lamia and David LeDoux
Ⓟ 2009, Scholastic Audio
10.75 hours
As a little girl, Grace is attacked by a wolf pack. She miraculously survives, carrying with her afterwards the memory of one wolf in particular. Afters years of spying the wolf in the woods at a distance, and developing a deep-felt passion for wolves’ survival as a whole, Grace and the wolf finally edge closer; And then Grace meets Sam, with his intense yellow eyes…
Shiver is a love story about a girl and her dog. Okay, not her dog, but a boy who happens to be a werewolf. And they are both teenagers, which means plenty of angst and earnestness expressed by words spoken, words unspoken, song lyrics and meaningful looks. The story recalls all the adolescent fervor in which everything is a matter of life and death. Of course, in this modern fairy tale, this is quite literally true. There is the obvious body count as victims of wolf attacks appear; but there is also the slide away from human life into a final change into the lupine form after years of lycanthropy. The whorl of emotions and the immediacy of the pace recall the classic story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Like R&J, the drama of Shiver plays out between the principals, young lovers who determine their own fates, driven by the force of their own feelings. Their worlds devolve around them, relegating others to the roles of supporting characters and; the reader becomes mesmerized by the ephemeral nature of each moment between the the two paramours.
Jenna Lamia and David LeDoux are the narrators of Shiver, reading passages from their characters’ respective points of view as Grace and Sam. Each voices their character with the all the whiny pathos the characters warrant. At times, David LeDoux sounds a bit more experienced than an eighteen-year old should; but overall Jenna Lamia and David LeDoux strike all the right notes, recalling what it was like to be young and in love and; trying to take control in the maelstrom of their lives.
Other Stuff: I dnloaded Shiver from Audiobook Community’s SYNC YA program this past summer (2011.)
This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com.


This book also qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Shiver takes place in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

The Walking Dead: Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars

The Walking Dead: Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars
by Robert Kirkman (creator, writer, letterer);
Charlie Adlard (penciler, inker)
Cliff Rathburn (gray tones);
Tony Moore (cover)

In “Days Gone Bye,” (Volume 1) Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in a hospital. The choice of physical incapacity is interesting as it can be construed as a type of death. In a comatose state, the patient has lost his will, his motor co-ordination, his consciousness and, is not unlike a zombie (generally classified as among the dead category) who shuffles instinctively and displays no consciousness or awareness. But Rick Grimes is not dead and, not a zombie because an external power has been exerted to save him. Medical technology kept Rick Grimes from falling into a true death. There are many different kinds of death displayed through the volumes thus far, but it is the power over death that compels our attention to the panels in “Days Gone Bye,” “Miles Behind Us” and, especially in “Safety Behind Bars.” From the immediacy of Rick’s individual and initial quest (buzzing for the nurse) to the larger communal effort to survive, man’s struggle against the inevitable is defined as his attempts to control it!
The zombies are the most obvious dead forms in The Walking Dead volumes. For the shuffling forms the most direct way of rendering them absolutely inert is to smash their brains. In “Miles Behind Us,” (Volume 2) we see some zombies detained in a barn in the hopes that there might be a way to cure them. In “Safety Behind Bars,” we see an attempt to reason with a newly turned zombie in the hopes that there may be a way to save the former human. Whether by hammer, blade or gunshot, once the threatening forms are rendered truly dead, they are burned. Just in case.
For the humans in the Walking Dead volumes so far, we’ve seen some take death into their own hands. In “Days Gone Bye” we see one character ask to be left to die and turn zombie so that he might join his zombified loved ones. In “Miles Behind Us,” a character, in his grief, puts a gun to his head. In “Safety Behind Bars,” we see a couple commit to a suicide pact so that they can be together forever :-/ In the suicide scenarios, each hopes to control the manner of their own demise, not realizing it’s not something you can really control in a world in which death is elastic.
We also see death meted out between men in self defense, whether the threat is imminent or actualized; as a matter of vengeance and, as a matter of punishment. As tricky as killing zombies may be (what if there is a shred of humanity buried within the corpse forms?), the matter of death between the conscious ones is definitely messy. In “Days Gone Bye,” the power of death is given to a seven-year old boy who is then placed into a situation of imminent, but not actualized, threat. The boy acts instinctively, and perhaps correctly; but not without repercussions. After all, shooting a man is not the same as shooting a deer or a zombie.
In “Miles Behind Us” and in “Safety Behind Bars” adults react to an actual threat of invasion by pulling guns on the newcomers. Harkening back to the “Miles Behind Us” post [wherein I posit that every one wants to belong someone, somewhere,] this tension seems paradoxical. And yet, the instinct to define the pack, and thin the herd of threats is a key to survival.
In “Safety Behind Bars,” we see human-on-human lethal violence at fervor pitch. There is a death committed as an act of vengeance. The act is committed with bare hands in a strangle-hold upon the victim. Without premeditation, but tantamount to murder, this death is seen as justified; but nonetheless covered up – ostensibly to eliminate misunderstanding. Or perhaps to avoid creating a morally grayer area where death is concerned. As if the survivors weren’t already dealing with the complexity of zombie deaths :-/
We also see death via beheading committed by the hands of a (possibly) criminally insane character. Though premeditated, can the perpetrator be considered accountable for his actions owing to his mental instability? Is he truly insane? Does the horror of his deeds outweigh such consideration? And finally, there is the mandated capital punishment, death by hanging, decreed at one point. Does one person have the right to order an execution? Does a majority vote justify the decision? And again, does the heinousness of the crime override the moral equivocation of such a decision?
Death is enabled through bites, guns, knives, hammers and rope; but death is actualized by man’s will. There is not a little irony that, in order to survive, the survivors must kill.
Artwork: “Days Gone Bye,” cover and content, was primarily drawn by Tony Moore ; but his contribution is limited to the covers for “Miles Behind Us” and “Safety Behind Bars.” In volumes two and three we can see a consistent aesthetic applied: more detail to the characters’ faces, better application of gray tones for compositional balance and; a heavier, bolder use of black ink. To demonstrate the differences, I’ve photographed three panels of the same character in the same mood: Lori Grimes, mad. The top panel is from “Days Gone Bye;” the bottom left panel is from “Miles Behind Us” and the bottom right panel is from “Safety Behind Bars.”


See Also:

The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (Graphic Novel Review about identity, civilization and individual rights) 
The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us (Graphic Novel Review about about belonging on a personal level, a group level and a “preadiastic” level)

Other Stuff: I purchased The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us from Barnes & Noble in Medford, OR

This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com


This book also qualifies for the What’s in Name? Challenge #4 hosted at BethFishreads. The Walking Dead: Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars is an audiobook with [travel] in the title, “Walking.”

The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us

The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us
by Robert Kirkman (creator, writer, letterer);
Charlie Adlard (penciler, inker);
Cliff Rathburn (gray tones);
Tony Moore (cover)
In The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye, the reader is introduced to Rick Grimes, as he wakes up from a coma in a hospital. He is by himself and immediately rings for assistance from the nurse and, then he goes in search of his home and family. He is alone and he reaches out to make a connection. In the Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us, we see an extension of that first intuitive search for the other.
Everybody wants to belong to someone, somewhere. This theme is developed on three levels in “Miles Behind Us:” on the personal level, on the group level and, on a “praediastic” [a word I made up from the root word, “praedium”] level. We see personal relationships develop within the small band of survivors moving on from their encampment outside of Atlanta, GA. Despite their disparate backgrounds and, the more tentative the odds of making a connection, the more tenacious the effort to establish an intimate relationship becomes. This goes beyond the group dynamics that need to be hammered out in ordered to survive; it is human nature. More importantly, it is non-zombie nature. While the zombies roam the landscape and will swarm their prey, there is no indication that they have developed any sort of societal bond, even at a pack level. There is no evidence that they recognize one another individually, much less that they can develop one-one-one relationships. But with Rick and the survivors, we see a range of personal relationships: Rick and his wife keep their marriage intact; two seven-year olds flirt; a May-December relationship buds; two teenagers declare their eternal love; two characters have a purely physical interconnection because they are lonely; two other characters look like they’re hooking up out of genuine chemistry… 
With every relationship started however, the group dynamic changes. Perhaps it is the herd instinct that asserts itself and compels them to think there is safety in numbers; but subjugating the individual interests to the group’s good is a struggle of identity on one hand; but a recognition that even though you can’t depend on anyone else, you also can’t do it (survive) alone. The closeness of life in the RV they have been operating out of is too much; but then again, when the opportunity presents itself to live at the abandoned Wiltshire Estates, they want to remain neighbors. When circumstances bring them to the farmstead of Hershel Greene, Rick’s group presumes integration into the household as a matter of due course and Lori is outraged when she encounters resistance.
There is a strong tradition of individuals identifying strongly with physical land. In English culture, the Earls and Dukes and such are often referred to by the names of their estates. In Rebecca (by Daphne DuMaurier) we see the strong correlation between Manderley and its master. In “Miles Behind Us,” Rick and the survivors seek more than a secured shelter. If that were not true, they could keep trekking across the landscape in the RV; but they want to settle down in homes with yards; in a place where they can be neighbors (Wiltshire Estates) or even work collectively toward a greater community (the farmstead.)
Against the odds and despite the risks, people reach out to each other and attempt to build communities. It’s a matter of both survival and desire.
The artwork in this volume contains less of the exaggerated features found in “Days Gone By,” though the black & white panels still depend on compositional values such has balance, clarity and perspective and; when they are lacking create confusion as to the action taking place. The scenes where couples kiss or are rendered hard-edged and unsexy, belying the established mood. Worse, you can’t discern whether the couples are kissing or attacking each other :-/ Again, in a couple of action panels (e.g. the zombie battle at the barn) the lack of contrast and/or perspective creates questions as to who or what is happening. Finally, the distinction between Lori and Maggie is too fine. Both characters have black hair and wear plaid at one point, making easy recognition difficult.

Attack at the Greene Farmstead Barn
Adlard and Rathburn have chosen to eliminate the frames between the scenes in this panel, emphasizing the compression of time in the action sequence (everything seems to be happening all at once) and the confusion of the attack in progress. The lack of contrast and line of perspective, combined with the the fact that this is not a single scene frame makes the panel difficult to interpret without referencing other panels both before and after this one.The woman being attacked (“Daddy!”) is the same woman in the center of the frame (“No!”) and the figure on the right is not her father, but Rick Grimes!

[The curvature at the bottom right-hand corner is due to the  proximity of the  illustration to the spine and the owner’s unwilingness to break the spine for a flatter scanned image]

The artwork is better than in “Days Gone Bye,” though the ideas expressed in both volumes are often more sophisticated than the medium itself.
Other Stuff: I purchased The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us from More Fun, a comic book store in Ashland, OR.
This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com


This book also qualifies for the What’s in Name? Challenge #4 hosted at BethFishreads. The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us is an audiobook with [travel] in the title, “Walking.”

This book also qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye starts out on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia.
View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye
by Robert Kirkman (creator, writer, letterer);
Tony Moore (penciler, inker, gray tones);
Cliff Rathburn (additional gray tones)
There are zombies on the cover of The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye and; there are zombies inside the graphic novel; but this isn’t really a zombie tale so much as it’s a survival tale. In “Days Gone Bye,” the focus is on the human element whereas the zombies are incidental. Rick Grimes, a police officer shot in the line of duty, wakes up from a coma in the hospital. He wakes to an abandoned facility, town, home, and basically, life as he knew it. Something has happened and now the the landscape is littered with zombies, alive-dead and dead-dead. His first instinct is to retain his civilized sensibilities and to reinforce his identity as an authority figure. He makes his way to the police station, dons his spare uniform, metes out guns and ammo to the first survivors he meets, grants them the use of a police cruiser and admonishes them to keep an eye out on his place while he heads in to Atlanta, GA. Even as he exits Cynthiana, KY, there are subtle cracks in his civilized veneer. Eventually, Rick ends up in an encampment of people who tried to make for the safety of the city but were too late to make their way in. At camp, the need for food, clean clothes and, secure shelter takes precedent over the social ethics of their former lives. Various members of the group each try to retain their individuality while trying to adapt to a group dynamic.
Very little is discovered about the zombies in “Days Gone Bye.” People die, they come back to an animated state. They bite people and the newly bitten become zombies in turn. The zombies here operate purely on an animal level of survival, apparently having the ability to smell and hear, all in the pursuit of something to eat. In “Days Gone Bye” the difference between the zombies and the survivors is clear, if only by degrees and speed. We’ll see how long this lasts :-/
Excepting the cover, the artwork in “Days Gone Bye” is black-and-white. The survivors are drawn with near cartoonish qualities: outlines without a lot of facial subtleties, many wide-eyed expressions and near comical distortions of the mouth. The zombies are consistently drawn with more detail and realism. Go figure. Because the panels are b&w, the integrity of the panels rests on the composition of the shots and ergo the gray tones or ink washes applied. Some are more difficult to execute than others (a scene around a campfire at night while snow falls vs a single head shot against a blank background) and Tony Moore and Cliff Rathburn met the challenges with varying degrees of success. A panel showing Rick and Glenn on a fire escape displays sophisticated layers and tones; but other scenes (e.g. Rick and Lori talking outside their tent) show less artful effort. [I do not know either Tony Moore’s nor Cliff Rathburn’s work well enough individually to be able to assess the handiwork of either’s effort, only the combined effect in this volume.] In a couple of panels, characters were difficult to distinguish from each other. In a long shot, two characters are speaking; but there is not enough detail to determine who and, in another panel, I had to look very closely across several pages and, by the process of elimination, figure out who was speaking.

Rick and Glenn on the fire escape
The illusion of depth is created by using lines of perspective drawn from the top of Glenn’s hat down to the zombie masses below. Visual touchstones that serve as markers along the way include Glenn’s hat, Rick’s hand, the actual fire escape and, the zombie in the dark suit.The layers of proximity/distance create the the impression of a “drop” and the heighten the anxiety of what lies below and the overall tension of the scene.
Rick & Lori talking outside their tent
The tent serves two purposes: Its sets up the balance and symmetry of the panel. The dialogue balloon becomes the asymmetrical element and item of interest and focus. The tent also serves as a frame for the couple in this intimate moment, closing the conversation off from others and the natural elements seen in the background. The shadowing casts on their faces and on the tent further contrasts with the darkness beyond the campfire and emphasizes their isolation. But the tent, with its ruler-straight outlines and lack of texture also looks artless in its “blockiness” and draws attention to the artifice of the drawing.

The artwork isn’t great; but In “Days Gone Bye” there is a lot of thought provoking material in regards to the concepts of identity, civilization and individual rights.

Other Stuff: I purchased The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye from More Fun, a comic book store in Ashland, OR.
This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com


This book also qualifies for the What’s in Name? Challenge #4 hosted at BethFishreads. The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye is an audiobook with [travel] in the title, “Walking.”


This book also qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye starts out in Cynthiana, Kentucky.
View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

Flashback Friday: The Mysterious Affair at Styles


The Mysterious Affair at Styles
By Agatha Christie
Narrated by Nadia May

6.8 hours


The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first title in the Hercule Poirot series. The Belgian exile and former police detective is called upon to investigate the death of an elderly woman.

In March of 2009, the Yahoo! group, Sounds Like a Mystery (S.L.A.M.) discussed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Because the discussion went forward on the premise that participants in the discussion had already listened to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, there are spoilers in the comments about characters and, I’ve marked out the passages below (“SPOILER ALERT” and “END SPOILER ALERT.”) The following comments were drawn from the discussion (03/20-23/2009):


S.LA.M. Discussion Questions

Did you like the book? Why? Why not?
I liked the book, but I made a serious mistake when I first approached it: I underestimated Agatha Christie. The last time I read AC was in high school (The ABC Murders and Murder on the Orient Express) and now I had thought her dated and perhaps even less-than- sophisticated! I was struck by the density of the cast list, the plot, the motives and the subterfuges. I anticipate returning to this book again and being able to appreciate it more with each re-reading or re-telling.

How did you like the narrator?
As much as I love Nadia May, she was miscast for this book. The narrator is a 45 year-old Captain coming in from the Front. Despite Nadia May’s versatility, there was no way to ignore that she wasn’t a 45 year-old Captain coming in from the Front! There is a scene early on wherein Captain Hastings looks out the window to see Lawrence Cavendish walking with Cynthia Murdoch. In my mind’s eye, I saw Miss Marple peering out the window! Later, as Captain Hastings expresses his crush on Mary Cavendish or even later, proposes to Cynthia Murdoch, it took me aback.

Did anything grab your attention?
I’ve started playing a little game with the audiobooks I’ve been listening to this year: What common factor can be found within the last three audiobooks I’ve listened to? Right now, the last three books are The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Invisible Monsters (by Chuck Palahniuk; narrated by Anna Fields) and, The Gargoyle (by Andrew Davidson; narrated by Lincoln Hoppe.) It turns out that all three narrators in the novels are people who have been hospitalized. In The Gargoyle, the narrator is recovering from a car accident in which he suffers 3rd/4th degree burns. In Invisible Monsters, the narrator is recovering from a gunshot wound received while she was driving on a highway. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the narrator is on sick leave from the War, but we do not know exactly what it is he is recovering from! I found this interesting if only because one might expect that whatever illness or injury Captain Hastings was suffering from, one that merited a prolonged convalescent leave, would have some sort of impact, whether physical or mental, on his bearing.

Even though there is no precise date given as the time period for the book, I have to think it is somewhere near the onset of WWI and before the introduction of gas warfare, so between April 1914 and April 1916. I couldn’t find a reference as to when paper usage limitations were being introduced into English life, but the mention of Belgian exiles also make me think it was probably 1914-15.

********** SPOILER ALERT **********


Did you figure out “whodunit?”
After Mr. Inglethorpe had been cleared, I was totally at sea! I was overwhelmed with too much information and unable to even formulate a hypothesis. I knew the stamps and the timeline were important; but as to “how” I couldn’t ascertain. After a while, I stopped trying to figure it all out and just went along unquestioningly. Even after having it all explained (“Poirot Explains”) I felt bemused. Were I to read the title repeatedly, following a different thread each time or writing little notes in the margins, I would be able to parse it out better and make sense of it all. Maybe.


Was there a twist that threw you? Was the plot believable?
The whole business with who was actually buying the strychnine while in disguise threw me. Owing to Dr. Bauerstein’s close physical resemblance to Alfred Inglethorpe, his knowledge as a toxicologist, and his seemingly personal interest in Mary Cavendish, he was the logical suspect and clearly the perfect red herring!

Did other items in the story help or hinder the story?
Poirot “played” Evelyn Howard. I did not understand the psychology or reasoning behind this approach and those passages felt alien to the work itself.

How did you feel about the main characters? Did you connect with the characters in the book?
At the beginning of the book, the number of characters was challenging. I actually listened to parts of the beginning a couple of times over so that the characters were clear in my mind. The most sympathetic character was Lawrence Cavendish, the image of the “watercolor” blond aristocrat and dilettante (cf Sebastien in Brideshead Revisited.) John Cavendish was the most pitiable by reason of his marriage and unrequited love. Captain Hastings was the least appealing. His intellectual vanities and limitations, coupled with his arrogance masquerading as reason, were off-putting. The character of Poirot himself was a little strange and was reminiscent of the-larger-than-life flamboyant Oscar Wilde (without the scandal.) Monk seems to be patterned somewhat after Poirot’s fastidiousness.

The characters were purposeless aristocrats. They couldn’t be anything else! The time setting of the book is 1915-1916. England was fully committed to WWI and Belgian refugees were crossing the Channel (i.e. Hercule Poirot.) At the time, there was a belief in Social Darwinism, that the best and brightest in society would make the best and brightest officers, not realizing that modern warfare would render Social Darwinism moot. Entire hometown regions of men were wiped out in a few hours of battle time. Men who served together often came from the same hometown or classroom. Hence, entire graduating classes from Eton, Harrows, Oxford and Cambridge, disappeared overnight. It turned out that the machine gun fire, grenades and later, gas, were indiscriminating. Those who were left behind on the home front, were not the best and brightest. There were physical misfits, second sons and, the old (e.g. John Cavendish, Lawrence Cavendish, the Head Gardener.) The pre-destined roles they had expected to play were stripped away. They were also left with the wreckage of a society that had never served them well. Understandably, they were not so eager to re-constitute a social order based on primogeniture and entailed legacies. These runts of society were now expected to make shift within the wreckage of an eviscerated social order. They were keenly aware of their own shortcomings. The better of them tried to form and/or adapt to the new and ever-shifting paradigms of the Modern Age and find their place (e.g. John Cavendish asking Mary Cavendish if she loved Dr. Bauerstein, a totally irrelevant question ten years prior) and the lesser of men just tried to fade into the background and find some measure of personal contentment (e.g. Lawrence Cavendish scribbling away at his poetry and finally asking Cynthia Murdoch to marry him.) For all, the idea of “purpose” as they understood it (predestiny) had been abrogated and they were left to contend with fate.

WWI killed La Bell Epoque and its attendant Age of Romanticism. Mrs. Inglethorpe could be seen as a symbol of the Old Ways with her patronages and affection for opening charity bazaars. Neither she nor the Old Ways went quietly into the night! Both were poisoned, by strychnine and modern warfare respectively.


Anyone or anything distract you in the story?
Everything was distracting! What was valuable information or evidence was difficult to thresh out.


Did the book grab you emotionally?
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is not an emotionally provocative book nor even a particularly an emotionally engaging one. The “locked room” mystery was meant to be an intellectual challenge.

Did you connect with the place? Do you feel like you have been or want to go there?
England during WWI? No, thank you.

Did you get hooked? At some point did you have a hard time putting it down? What was the point?
“Hooked” may not be the appropriate word, but for lack of a better term, I was “hooked” after Mr. Inglethorpe had been cleared. I knew I wasn’t processing all the information correctly and so I was anticipating the parlor scene in hopes that all would be made clear to me. Now that the book is done, I feel compelled to go over it again so, in that way I’ve been “hooked” twice!

What about the use of sex or violence in the story?
The sex and violence were very abstracted. The scandalous Mrs. Railkes and her activities are inferred but never spelled out. The exact nature of the relationship between Mary Cavendish and Dr. Bauerstein is never made explicit. As for the crime itself, while rather lurid, did not entail any scatological details or goriness. Poisoning is a rather passive or “feminine” method of homicide. Overall, this title ranks fairly low in terms of sex and violence. I would place it, as a cozy, in league with Crocodile on a Sandbank.

********** END SPOILER ALERT **********

On a Scale from 1-5 (5 is best) or a Grade of F-A+, how would you rate this book?
I’m tentatively rating this title a “B.” If I actually do return to the book, I suspect it will go up in my estimation.

Would you read other books in this series (if there are any)?
I’m willing to continue with the Hercule Poirot series, but I’d like to take some time with each book.

Would you seek out other books by this narrator?
I recently cited Nadia May as my favorite female narrator. I based my assessment on her work on Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] and am looking forward to Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute. As for this series, I think I would like to try either David Suchet or Hugh Fraser if I were to continue in the audio format.



Poirot – The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Directed by Ross Devenish
Starring David Suchet and Hugh Fraser
This DVD works as a great companion to the book as it serves to elucidate some of the points in the novel that are not clear from the writing (i.e. what a green armlet is, what a spill vase is and does); sets a specific time reference (June 1917) and therefore a context; fills in some back-story (Captain Hastings suffers from a leg injury) and; provides some other interesting and appropriate other material (the role-playing drills of people left behind on the home front, the nightmares of Hastings, the rumors of the American Expeditionary Force’s arrival.) The movie, however, collapses the time frame and, eliminates a major character (and therefore avoids the counting teacups business from the book; but does help clarify why Lawrence was staring at the mantelpiece as his mother was dying.) The book and the movie are great examples as to the possibilities and limitations of either medium.

GRADE: B


Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of the audiobook from Blackstone Audio, Inc. I rented the DVD of the movie from Netflix.

This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com