Monday, July 03, 2006

The Lighthouse by P.D. James

I’m going to blame my failure to finish this book on the fact that I was listening to the audiobook during a particularly busy period at home and at work. My breaks between listening sessions were too long, so long that I forgot the names of the characters, and couldn’t follow the action. I also missed some organizational clues. In the beginning, a murder has already happened; that’s what summons Dalgliesh and his team to Combe Island. But then the action moves to Combe Island, and it’s clear that no one is dead yet. I was so confused! Obviously, there must have been some kind indication of the shift backwards in time in the print copy of the book, but it wasn’t adequately signaled in the audiobook, and it took me ages to figure out what was going on. The problem with an audiobook, of course, is that it’s very difficult to go back and re-read. So you just soldier on, thinking that it will clear up, but in this case it took too long.

And I also have to say (dare I say it?) I’m a tiny bit sick of Kate Miskin, and that chip on her shoulder. No one in these books has even the slightest hint of a sense of humor, they are just so serious serious serious. It was all too much darkness and confusion for me. But James is the Queen of Crime Fiction, and her skills are intact. So I can’t give this a bad grade, I can just say that it wasn’t the right book for me at this moment.

Here is a link to the Guardian review. The reviewers at Amazon give the book very high marks, and the first review on the Amazon page, by M. L. Fletcher, now makes me want to go back and try reading the print version. I’ll let you know if I do.


Jenny Davidson said...

Over the last four or five of these novels, though, I've developed what amounts to a passionate hatred for late-stage P. D. James. (Which is a pity, because some of those early ones--"An Unsuitable Job for a Woman"!--are fabulously good.) They have the worst traits of 'literary' fiction--the pomposity, the self-seriousness, the excess of description of rooms and buildings and places--combined with extraordinarily slack handling of the crime-related matters. The thing that really makes me crazy is that awful Dalgliesh. I have a minor obsession about the thing where crime-series protagonists don't age with the times; he is the poster-boy for this, it is absolutely awful! He STILL wrote just that one book of poems (uh, dudes, I do NOT think that AD having published one book of poems MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO in the early 1960s would any longer be what people think of when they meet him), he STILL has the whole lost-wife-and-child trauma, it is grossly implausible; but also and more to the point his whole cultural formation and personality are those of someone born in England before WWII, you cannot just shift him forward like this and have him vaguely in his early 40s and have all of the class stuff standing still in the meantime! All right, that's enough of a mini-rant, but really THE MURDER ROOM was quite awful, and the couple before that pretty dire too. I hope she's not reading this, I feel she must be above searching for her name on the internet and I do not like hurting the feelings of authors; really it is because she HAS great powers that I am so annoyed at this letting-herself-off-so-slackly and being-too-much-in-love-with-the-wretched-Adam-Dalglish-and-poetry-writing thing!

Becky Holmes said...

Wow! Hooray for mini-rants! But here's where I disagree. I think he has aged. I picture him in his mid-sixties by now, approaching retirement, which would put his birth date around when you say (because I do agree with that observation about the pre-WWII personality). I absolutely don't think he is in his early 40's. I also agree with you about An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which is my all time favorite. I was sorry there weren't more books about Cordelia Gray.

Jenny Davidson said...

There was one more, "The Skull Beneath the Skin," did you read that?

It would be interesting to look back for clues about how she's fudged the age thing--certainly you have to say that she implies the single book of poems was published rather more recently than is chronologically feasible!

The worst thing is I KNOW I am going to be short of a book to read one day & pick this one up & read it and FUME!

Maxine Clarke said...

Wow, I was going to post a rant but Jenny D got there before me, Becky.
I agree totally about Kate Miskin and late stage James. I have not read the Murder Room, though I have got it (cheap in a book club). Have not read this one - I think?? I did read one set in East Anglia, which is where I parted company with her, as reading the book felt like wading through treacle. It seemed to take place in some bubble. And Dalgleish is not believeable, and his age decidedly dodgy.

When I was quite young (in my 20s I think) I read the early P D James, and liked them a lot. I agree with Jenny D that U J for a W was good, and I thought a romance was brewing between Dalgleish (hadn't his wife died?) and Cordelia. Then I think James didn't write for a while, and then she started what Jenny D calls the "late phase" where I think she (the author, not Jenny) is too old, eminent or something..just out of touch. And the books are so slow and ponderous. Miskin does not appeal to me as a heroine/main character.
I once posted on Petrona about an interview James gave to the Times. There was a hilarious (unintentionally?) part of it where James said that she was flying to the USA or somewhere to give an interview about her books and she had to re-read them on the plane to refresh her memory -- and when she read one of them, she guessed the murderer wrong...

P D James

Jeremy said...

This is slightly off-topic, since it better applies to your piece about other bloggers reading lists, but Art Garfunkel has a list of all the books he's read at

As for PD James, if I do decide to read her I'll avoid her recent stuff. I've read only one of her books, the title of which I think was Devices and Desires (not sure if the first word was devices) that I did very much enjoy. But of course this was many years ago.

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