Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Strong Poison

I found Strong Poison in this fabulous bookstore in Milwaukee a few weeks ago - I'd probably put that bookstore on my list of top five bookstores, which, off the top of my head are:

1. The Strand, NYC
2. Powells, Portland Oregon
3. Women and Children First, Chicago
4. I can't remember the name, Mendocino, CA
5. City Lights, San Francisco

OK, well, it's definitely in my top ten.

I've been meaning to mark the provenance of all my books, but I always forget. But, I digress... Strong Poison is by Dorothy Sayers, and, by all rights, I should have read it before Gaudy Night (and so should you!)

In it, we're immediately thrown into the trail of one Harriet Vane, a mystery writer herself, who's been accused of murdering her ex. Our hero, Peter Whimsey, watching the trial, decides that Harriet is NOT guilty and also that he would like to marry her.

Despite the sexist overtones of er, our hero, Sayers's book has charming early feminist tones as well - she addresses sexism in the workplace, domestic service and the difficulty of detecting whilst female. A woman finds herself at a loss when, hot on the trail, she doesn't have a conceivable excuse, as a woman, to linger on the street, aside from gazing longingly in shop windows for a certain amount of time. She imagines all the ways a man or a boy could lurk indefinitely.

Vane and her ex-beau (fictional) were part of the (actual) Bloomsbury crowd. The Bloomsburies are a fascinating group of artists who, in this book come off as slightly wacky almost-hippies. In a way, I suppose they were - they were experimenting not just with different ways of creating art, but non-normative social structures and ways of living. These interactions with the aristocratic but easy-going Whimsey are awfully funny.

There's also a hilarious bit having to do with "Spiritualism" - another popular idea of the time, that you could communicate easily with departed souls and whatnot.

Sayers is a very witty writer and her language is just a pleasure to read - Strong Poison is a great example of her work, although, I do have one small complaint, and I'm about to drop a major spoiler, so stop reading if you intend to read it unless you have a really bad memory like I do. OK, seriously. Look away! I'm going to start a new paragraph and then I'm going to drop the spoiler.



Alright, you're with me? So, what happens is, her ex is poisoned, right? And, it turns out, his last meal was eaten entirely with someone else, and then he had tea with Harriet. But, the someone else didn't get sick, and, it turns out, that person had built up a fuckin' immunity to the poison. Come on! That's annoying. You could never figure that out. So, that was really lame, but, otherwise I couldn't put the book down, it was really great.

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