Posted 27 May 2008 in Reading by Catriona
(Not as geeky as Nick, mind, who’s just headed out to collect a Chinese take-away with the enigmatic comment “Give my love to Broadway.” Since Nick would rather self-immolate than watch live theatre—especially musical theatre—I find this a remarkably odd comment.)
But that’s not important right now.
The important thing is that I’ve been re-reading Dorothy L. Sayers, moving on from Agatha Christie to another of the so-called Queens of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. (Which reminds me, I should track down some Margery Allingham: she’s the only one of the Queens with whom I’m unfamiliar, but the only short story of hers I’ve ever read I found a little dull.)
I’m currently re-reading Gaudy Night, which I enjoy immensely, although I understand that J. R. R. Tolkien did not care for it, much as he liked the early novels. It certainly has a confronting approach to academic life, especially the cloistering of academic women that still persisted in the 1930s: Sayers’s partly elegiac but partly anxious rendering of academia is attractive and unfamiliar to those of us whose experience of the ivory tower seems to settle on shouting “Stop jamming my papers!” at the photocopier half an hour before every tutorial.
Or perhaps that’s just me.
But it’s not the content with which I have a problem. Sometimes, much as I love Sayers, I do struggle with the plots: rarely will I re-read Have His Carcase, because I find the strain of muttering “He’s a haemophiliac” through gritted teeth for four-hundred pages too much for me.
But with Gaudy Night, it’s the presentation.
Gaudy Night is one of two volumes—the other being Murder Must Advertise, a perennial favourite—that I have in this particular edition: the rest of the collection has been cobbled together from secondhand books sales, so that there’s a plethora of typefaces and covers across the dozen volumes.
The Gaudy Night publication is a recent NEL reprint: they have lovely black-and-white photographic covers—although the plastic coating over the cardboard rubs away very easily, leaving them a little ragged looking—but two points count against them.
The first might be solely my problem, but the introductions by Elizabeth George add nothing to the text. Partly, it’s that I was never able to read the only Elizabeth George novel I ever started, which was For the Sake of Elena. To make it worse, I’d already seen the television adaptation, and I still couldn’t be bothered finishing the book.
(I actually quite liked the actor who played Tommy Linley, largely because I thought he was an excellent Rawdon Crawley in the BBC’s production of Vanity Fair—even though he was nothing like the big, blonde, mustachioed Rawdon that the book had led me to expect.)
But what really annoyed me about For the Sake of Elena was when Linley expressed the disappointment he had felt on learning that Jane Austen didn’t live in a thatched cottage. Why on earth would the eighth Earl of whatever he was the eighth Earl of think that Austen lived in a thatched cottage? Anglophiles who live in California might think that, but I would imagine Austen would have died of shame had she come down in the world to a thatched cottage.
But even that—should you have made it this far through this rambling post—is not what really annoys me about these editions.
No, that would be the typesetting.
I don’t know if it was done on character-recognition software from an earlier edition or what the reason is, but it’s ripe with doubled and tripled letters and punctuation marks: two commas at the end of a sub-clause, for example, or three ts in a word that should only have two.
And it drives me insane, even while I’m enjoying the plot.
So I’m tempted to do something very geeky, and read the novel with a pencil in my hand, so I can cross out the extra letter and punctuation marks, and make neat marginal corrections.
But I’m restraining myself, because I fear the next step would be inevitable.
I want to be at least seventy before I start writing complaining letters to the newspapers insisting that Coles and Woolworths change their signs to read “12 Items or Fewer.”