Tuesday, 16 March 2010

And All By Page 4!

I am going to be a terrible bore now, and bang on about an author I have just discovered - or rather, was introduced to: Mary Renault. I am reading a 1972 Book Club Edition of her novel, The Persian Boy. (50p in a charity shop). This picture (see below) is a hasty sketch of me entranced by this book.

Entranced? Yes, truly - although perhaps mesmerised in horror would be more accurate. So far we've had a paternal mutilation (nose and both ears sliced off), decapitation, a maternal suicide (complete with skull exploding as it hit the courtyard), the rape and murder of three pre-teen girls, the enslavement, 'gelding' and subsequent prostitution of a very young boy - and all by page 4. Erk. On Chesil Beach it is not ...

I expect it's all right, though, because it's historical and they're all foreign.

I've also been told (by the same grate fiend who gave me Mary Renault) to read the novels of Dorothy Dunnett. As encouragement, two plot threads were described to me, including one where the protagonist is forced to play a game of chess with live people. (Hmmm, where have I read that before, Ms Rowling?). One chess move will result in the death of a three year old boy. There are two small boys to choose from, both of whom may be the hero's small son. (Yes, I know this is a bit garbled, but I was in shock. Again, OCB it is not.)

The second 'great selling point' has the protagonist espying (it's also historical; a lot of espying went on in those days) the Love of His Life dozing serenely on a garden terrace by a fountain. He rushes to kiss her - and notices yellow straw poking from beneath her eyelids. She has been flayed and stuffed.

I came home and Goggled (that is not a spelling mistake, by the way). Yes, Goggled.

Dorothy Dunnett looks like my Demon Aunt - a fine woman - who has only ever stuffed anyone full of scones, fruitcake, Victoria Sponge, oatcakes and Malteser Biscuits.

But it's still stuffing, isn't it?

To extend this argument: does this mean that all les femmes d'un certaine age are plotting really terrible comeuppances? (Which may or may not involve stuffing.)

You might think I've jumped to this conclusion because of one photo of Dorothy Dunnett. Not so! Look at Mary Renault. (Click on the link as you have no idea just how tricky this insert image stuff is. It's gone wrong several times already.)

That's two of 'em for starters, and I've not even begun to mention my mother ...

I mean, I've been plotting terrible comeuppances for ages now ... So I was struck by a thought more shockingly dreadful than anything Dunnett and Renault could conjure - does this mean I, too, am of a certain age?

I pondered this for a good five minutes, but consoled myself with the thought that I am still too young to be referred to as sprightly*.

Right, onto page 5 ...

* Many thanks to Patrick Joseph who assured me of this fact.


  1. I met Dorothy Dunnett. She was utterly charming, very hospitable (though I could tell she thought there was something deeply suss about me when I turned down a glass of wine in favour of orange juice). She had a marvellous sense of humour and was an all round lovely person (though one had the feeling that there was an iron hand within the velvet glove should one overstep the mark). So I think your thesis is Absolutely Correct. Except for one thing: the straw doll was not the love of hero's life. She was a Passing Fancy but nevertheless The Mother Of His Child. And Dunnett didn't do Espying. Or Pritheeing. Or even varletting.

  2. Thank you for this, Sim. The Game of Kings arrived this morning, so once Mary Renault has killed everyone off in The Persian Boy, I'll get right to it.

    O, to be a passing fancy! So much more fun than having to maintain Love of Ones Life standards ...