This Week, I Read… (2020 #38)

#146 – Behold, Here’s Poison, by Georgette Heyer

  • Read: 10/2/20 – 10/4/20
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A mystery
  • Mount TBR: 125/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 127. It’s only partially the book’s fault, though.

I don’t enjoy mystery novels. Oddly enough, I do sometimes enjoy mystery movies, and I had my phase of watching investigative procedural shows with their mystery elements. But novels have always left me bored, frustrated, or bewildered.

This is no exception; but my dislike of the genre isn’t the fault of this particular book.

My yearly reading challenges, no matter the source or the year, always include somewhere “Read a mystery.” And I always put my game face on and try a new one, thinking “Maybe this time I’ll enjoy it.” And I never do. I should really stop trying.

So what portion of my disappointment with this is actually the book’s fault? It has a huge cast of characters that are uniformly obnoxious with very little in the way of differing personalities between them; the worst of upper-crust British society at the time, I guess, and so overdone to my sensibilities that if you told me this was satire I would believe you. The first seventy pages of the book were solely devoted to these dozen or so awful people constantly slinging accusations at each other and reiterating information that I, the reader, already knew; it was a slog, and I nearly gave up before the inspectors were even introduced. When I got that far, I gamely attempted two more chapters before throwing in the towel; the constant repetition of information in conversation between different characters was simply too exhausting, and the pace of the story was glacially slow.

I’m stating it now: I have no intention of ever reading any book whose primary genre is listed as “mystery” again. I never like them and I’m tired of trying to.

#147 – A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay

  • Read: 10/4/20 – 10/8/20
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book with a bird on its cover
  • Mount TBR: 126/150
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

After a somewhat slow start that left me wondering (as I often do with GGK) how I would keep all the characters straight, this quickly became a story so compelling I didn’t want to put it down, yet sometimes I had to because emotion or inspiration overwhelmed me.

And I didn’t have trouble keeping track of everybody for long. I should really trust the author more by now, I’m most of the way through his catalog. His characters are never ambiguous or interchangeable.

While it’s inevitable for most readers, myself included, to compare this to Tigana, because of its similarities or because Tigana is often considered his best work or because, like me, it was the first GGK novel I read, I find the comparison favorable. So much of what I loved about Tigana is also present here; this is the work that reminds me most of it, in good ways. The complex layers of motivations to the characters, the emphasis on artistry, the nobleman-in-hiding, the way even minor characters are memorable many chapters later when they reappear to play some small but key role in the story. The only thing that felt missing was magic, which has a much smaller presence, but for this particular tale of love and grief and revenge and war, I found I didn’t mind.

I already want to read it again, and I think it will reward me when I do with extra insight and a deeper appreciation of how it balances large political forces against the small, pivotal actions of the individual, a characteristic of GGK’s writing that I don’t think I’ve found often from other authors. He takes the time to remind us that one person can still change a flow of events that otherwise seems inevitable, as well as taking the time to pause and really let us feel the emotions driving those characters.

Will it eventually unseat Tigana as my favorite GGK novel? I don’t know yet; it’s hardly fair to stack a first read against something I’ve reread at least half a dozen times. (Also, I should probably give River of Stars a chance as well, I adored it but also haven’t reread it yet.) But it’s the first novel since RoS that makes me feel like it might, given enough time and attention.

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