Barbara Pym is good. I borrowed Jane and Prudence, her 1953 novel of post-war British society, because the women on the cover were wearing lovely frocks, one rose and the other emerald green. Often called a modern day Austen, Pym's characters are wiser and sadder than an Emma or an Elizabeth. Jane, an impractical, dowdy and well educated clergyman's wife who sets out to play matchmaker to Prudence, her glamourous friend - Jane's former student, now a 'spinster' engaged in various unsatisfactory love affairs - reflects upon poetry, village life and the nature of men. And women. A comedy of manners with an undertone of cynicism. The clothes in the novel are wonderful too. It was really rather delicious.
Caribou Island by David Vann was not. It's about an idiot husband whose wife has a terrible headache and they build a cabin out on a freezing cold, isolated island and we gradually find out he's a bastard and she's unhinged and she ends up shooting him with a bow and arrow before hanging herself. Depressingly, she still has her headache when she dies. And in between their adult children have unsatisfactory relationships. There is quite a lot of hype over this novel but it just isn't very good. In my humble opinion, for which I'm sure David Vann cares not a fig!
I'm editing this to add a little more weight to my dislike of this book. Besides an overwrought plot and unbelievable characters, it's very clumsily structured. Characters don't develop over the novel. There are apostrophes in the wrong place. It's meant to be a novel of landscape but I could form no picture at all of the town, the island, the cabin. It reads like a first draft, the kind you'd suggest was put away in a drawer for a year or two. It's clear that this book was published because Vann's first book sold well and Penguin think they can move this one on the basis of the first. I don't have anything against Mr Vann ( although I'm glad he wasn't my creative writing teacher ) but truly, the Emperor here has no clothes.
Now to the shameful...which of course was the most enjoyable. Isn't that always the way ? Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris is about Harper Connelly, a lightening strike survivor left with the uncanny ability to find dead people. She and her stepbrother Tolliver make a business this way and, asked to find a missing eleven year old girl, they become caught up in all sorts of criminal and murderous high jinks. Charlaine Harris makes me think of a CWA lady making scones. It's all in the light hand. I read her Aurora Teagarden books over the summer and she does a lovely job of the almost Christie-like mystery. Here, it's all a bit darker - and there's a ghost, which was a bit much even for me...almost.