Friday, 30 March 2012

P.D. James

This morning I went to the Oxford Literary Festival - only the third event I've attended in eight years in Oxford - and saw P.D. James talking with Peter Kemp (of the Sunday Times) about Death Comes to Pemberley.  As I've grown to expect from James's appearances, she was a witty and wise speaker - even without having read Death Comes to Pemberley (or, indeed, any of her books) I loved it.


My highlight from the event was the childhood story which revealed James's early propensity for crime literature: when her mother read her Humpty Dumpty, young Phyllis's question was "Did he fall, or was he pushed?"

I didn't join my friends in buying a copy and getting it signed, because of my Lenten fast, but I was tempted... has anyone read it?  I've heard mixed reviews, but would like to hear the yay or nay from you lot... those of you who are you still talking to me after my post on The Rector's Daughter!

28 comments:

  1. I was very disappointed in this book Simon. Such a shame as I was looking forward to it

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  2. It is so awful, Simon, so, so awful. I have a ridiculously open mind when it comes to anything Austen-related but...no, just no.

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    1. Strong words indeed, Claire! Especially given your willingness to enjoy it. Hmm...

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  3. It didn't do it for me either. I usually like P.D. James - but not this time.
    And for what it's worth I've always believed Humpty was pushed!

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    1. You obviously have the same suspicious mind! ;)

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  4. I've read it -- and I'm afraid it is disappointing though I wouldn't go so far as to say awful. She gets JA's voice amazingly right, especially at the beginning, but you were right not to buy it. However she is absolutely wonderful and I'm glad you saw her -- I saw her last year at the OLS and loved every second.

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    1. She is simply wonderful - I think I got the best of both worlds, by hearing her speak without reading the book!

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  5. I second Claire's "awful". No sparkle or wit at all. It was my first and definitely my last foray into P. D. James literature.

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    1. Please don't be put off P.D. by this aberration. Try one of her early books. I recommend "Death of a Nightingale", but only if you like crime novels of course.

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    2. I promise I will consider it, at least :) Thanks for the recommendation!

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    3. Good luck! Alison knows my lack of love for crime novels, so I probably shan't bother...

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  6. I haven't read it, though I recently read a moderately positive review. The central mystery of the novel isn't at all interesting to me. So somebody murdered Wickham. Who cares? In my mind, there would be a big party at Pemberley to celebrate the occasion. Would anybody actually miss him? After years of being married to that cad, I'm not sure even Lydia would grieve him for very long.

    I love the Humpty Dumpty anecdote!

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    1. Ha! I can't help liking Wickham a bit after the Lost in Austen tv series 'revealed' him to be misunderstood...

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  7. I thought the book was fun, and above all it was P. D. James having fun! Don't go into it with high expectations but read it as a little self-indulgence on the author's part, and it's an enjoyable piece full of social satire, casual references to characters from other Austen novels, and some great lines. Take it in that spirit and it will pass muster (it did for me).

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    1. A dischordant voice! I shall bear the witness for the defence in mind :)

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  8. Simon, this book is *awful* & I am a fan of the great P.D. Didn't spot you yesterday as I was going into the next event after P.D.'s (The wonderful Clare Tomalin) I did get a glimpse of the lady busily signing books with a healthy queue of fans lined up.

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    1. My friends were in that queue! My Lent ban meant I wasn't, but I'm not regretting it too much now...

      I heard Claire T speak a while ago - she was great, of course!

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  9. My Book Club read this book and we have several Jane Austen fans. Most enjoyed it though I found it a bit boring. One member felt that P.D. James should not have written a sequel. P.D. James herself said that she apologized to Jane Austen and thought that Ms. Austen would have responded " had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written it herself and done better."

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  10. Oh dear. I cannot remember so many negative comments about a book you discussed for quite some time (leaving aside your own displeasure with 'In Cold Blood'). The only person I know who has read 'Death Comes to Pemberley' was also rather unimpressed. Despite this, anyone who remains interested in hearing P. D. James discuss the book and why she wrote it, can do so in this Faber podcast: http://soundcloud.com/faberbooks/p-d-james-death-comes-to

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    1. It does seem pretty universal here, doesn't it? I don't know how her reviews were. Presumably the Sunday Times was favourable.

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  11. Admire P D James but I'm not crazy about Austen sequels. My book group has selected it though, so I'll reserve judgement until I've read it.

    I'm going to the festival on Sunday to see Anne Tyler. Shame I missed you!

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    1. Hope Anne Tyler was good! I was going to recommend that we meet up for a coffee, but I actually wasn't in Oxford during Sunday.

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  12. I will agree with Cornflower on this one. If you don't expect a lot, it's sort of fun. But, it did feel if she was trying just a little bit too hard to pull off the Austen voice. The beginning was fine, but as you read further, you can sense the tension of it getting harder to do. My dd#2 read it with me and felt the same. We did enjoy the references to other Austen characters, though. :)

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    1. I might turn to it on a rainy day sometime - Mum has a copy - but I shan't be buying it. That's my conclusion!

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  13. EllenB in NYC31 March 2012 04:30

    I feel that it is unfair to judge her body of work based on this one example written, lets face it, in her dotage. Actually, her last 3 or 4 books have not been up to her earlier standards. The most recent is truly awful; however, if one reads some of her earlier work and one enjoys a well constructed traditional mystery her skill will be obvious. I have read them all and I remember Cover Her Face and The Skull Beneath the Skin as particularly good.

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    1. Cover Her Face does intrigue me - but I'm not one to dash at crime. She is still a wonderful speaker, which is enough for her age!

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