book reviews by Althea

Gaudy Night – Dorthy L. Sayers ***

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(Peter Wimsey, #12)

Only the second I’ve read in this series (the other was ‘Strong Poison’) and it’s a very, very different book. Where ‘Strong Poison’ is a pretty standard, classic mystery, ‘Gaudy Night’ is (it seems) almost an autobiographical novel, with a mystery shoehorned in.

I loved, loved, loved every detail of what it was like to be a female student at Oxford back in the day (Sayers attended from 1912-1915). It’s a vivid, realistic, and very human depiction of the academics and their day-to-day lifestyle, their lofty intellectual concerns and their petty foibles – all come together to make this book an invaluable and amazing historical document.

However, the mystery, such as it is, didn’t grab me. I couldn’t bring myself to really care too much about who the ‘poison pen’ tormenting these women was. I’ve never cared for mysteries which end in an overlong expository explanation of why all the villainy occurred.

The romance aspect was also aggravatingly frustrating. I found Peter Wimsey to be a self-important twit, and, I’m sorry, but although, yes, one should be certain that a potential romantic partner respects you as a person, I don’t find Harriet Vane stringing him along for FIVE YEARS to be romantic or feminist – at that stretch of time, it’s just being an inconsiderate, indecisive jerk.

Definitely worth reading, however. I’ll read more of the series.


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