Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Crime and The Woman Alone - A Reading List

I've been reading hard this last week. The state of my house will attest to that. Nice and middle-brow, I've read the new Sara Paretsky and a trio of thrillers by Nicci French. To make up for the crime glut, I finished off with Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, which, ironically,  turned out to be revolve around crime as well.

Breakdown, the Paretsky, begins with a group of tweens in a graveyard and ends with the expose of a murderer, long hidden. In between, V.I. Warshawski - a private eye now well into middle age - manages to explore the relationships between brothers and sisters, a biased media, politics, immigration, mental health, the lot! And still it works as a puzzle.

I've always liked V.I. She works alone. And the story is driven by what she thinks, the connections she makes. Oh, she's got a token niece, a kind neighbour, the dogs. She's even got a man. Her real world, however, takes place in her mind, is woven of thoughts. And the places she does her thinking aren't peopled; her apartment, her car, a train, the city on an early morning run.

Frieda Klein, title character of the Nicci French trio, is addicted to aloneness as well. She's a walker, following the buried rivers of London late at night. She's a listener also - it's her profession of psychotherapist that draws her into a series of police investigations. Her house, dark and orderly, is refuge from the world and the people in it, friends and strangers who bang relentlessly at the door. Freida's thinking is less straightforward than V.I's. She is attuned to image and to nuance.Yet the world she shapes from dream and emotion, from her separation from others, creates and solves the mystery for us.

I was interested in The Woman Upstairs after reading about the (mild) controversy over Messud's main character, who is said to commit the cardinal sin of being unlikeable. Is she ? Not for me.  Miss E, an elementary teacher and would-be artist reaching early middle age sans husband, child or even mother becomes involved in the lives of a family from Paris. She falls in love with the child, the man and crucially, the artist Sirena with whom she begins to share a studio. It reads as a novel of mortality, of thwarted ambition, of loss and of lack almost to the end. And only as the end approaches and a crime is revealed does the kaleidoscope change. A novel about the crimes we commit in the name of art and the crimes we commit against ourselves, here again is another world conjured by the thoughts of a woman alone.

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