Accidental Man

Murdoch, Iris. An Accidental Man. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

Reason read: Murdoch was born in July. Read in her honor.

While the story of An Accidental Man opens with American Ludwig Leferrier and his British girlfriend, Gracie Tisbourne, getting engaged, the “accidental man” is actually middle aged Austin Gibson Grey. He is a hapless man followed by trouble with a mentally unstable wife.
As an FYI, the thing about Murdoch’s writing is that there are a lot of other characters to keep track of and the plot is dark and convoluted, but after a while the characters become old friends which makes the plot easier to follow. Kind of like when you are stuck in an elevator and everyone becomes familiar by the time the doors open and you are freed.
There are a lot of tragic moments in An Accidental Man so it’s surprising to think of it as a comedy. Take, for example, the scene of Gracie’s wealthy grandmother dying. Her children are desperate for the doctor to speed up the process because they just want it to be over or do they want her money? the sooner the better. The doctor tries and tries to leave but the family keeps finding excuses to make him stay.
Or, when Austin, driving Matthew’s car while drunk, hits and kills a child. Matthew helps cover up the crime because it was his automobile that struck the child. How they avoid detection from the police, I don’t know.
Or when Mitzi and Charlotte attempt suicide…see what I mean? Dark, dark, dark! However, one of the best things about Murdoch’s writing was how descriptive she could be with her characters. Grace Tisbourne is described as small calm radiant unsmiling. Just like that. It’s the “radiant unsmiling” that grabs you.
One of the worst things about Murdoch’s writing is how disjointed the story line could be. Because of the multitude of characters the plot jumps around a lot.
The message of the story is we all have to determine our moral obligation towards one another.

Lines I liked, “Crushed close together, two hearts battered in their cages” (p 4), “His parents were grateful to America, and the glow of that gratitude was shed over his childhood” (p 10), “The terrible solipsism of youth can offend the old” (p 26) and last one, “A police car kerb-crawled him and then drove away leaving the scene empty” (103). Brilliant.

As a trivial aside, I found a Natalie connection to Accidental Man. The cover is a man with puppet strings. All I could think was, “You Happy Puppet” when I saw it.

Author fact: Murdoch was also a philosopher.

Book trivia: Accidental Man is Murdoch’s fourteenth book.

Nancy said: One of Pearls all time favorite quotes is from An Accidental Man. She also indicated this was one of her very favorite Mudoch books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very obvious chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).


Framley Parsonage

Trollope, Anthony. Framley Parsonage. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Reason read: to continue the series started in April in honor of Trollope’s birth month.

As usual Trollope’s fourth novel in the Barsetshire Chronicle is laden with characters. One of the first people readers meet is Mark Robarts, a vicar with ambitions to further his career. The gist of the story is that Robarts loans Nathaniel Sowerby money even though Robarts realizes Sowerby is an unsavory character, always gambling and up to no good. Of course there is some good old fashioned courting of the ladies going on that complicates the story.
Trollope explores human emotions such as humiliation (Robarts not being able to afford to give a loan but does it anyway), romance (between Mark’s sister, Lucy, and Lord Lufton), greed (inappropriate relationships because of lower class status) and affection (bailing a friend out of a sticky situation). The subplot of Lucy and Lord Lufton is my favorite. Lady Lufton doesn’t think Lucy is good enough for her son (what mother does?).

Author fact: Trollope wanted to be a political figure at one point in his life.

Book trivia: At the end of Framley Parsonage Doctor Thorne gets married. Remember him?

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Framley Parsonage but she did say that Trollope is one of her favorite writers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).


Pamela

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. New York: Croscup & Sterling Company, 1802.

Reason read: April is Letter Writing Month. Apologies! Apologies! Somehow this missed the publication date. 😦

To read Pamela Andrews’s’s letters to her parents you have to surmise she is a really good girl. Who, as a fifteen year old maidservant, sends money home to his or her parents these days? Exactly. Keep in mind this was written in 1740.
Back to Good Girl Pamela. The trouble doesn’t really begin for Pamela until her mistress passes away and young Pamela is left deal with the grieving son…only he is not so distraught as one would think. As soon as his mother has passed, his advances while subtle are enough to cause Pamela’s parents concern, especially for…you guessed it…her father. Some things haven’t changed after all. Maybe dad is thinking as a man instead of a parent when he begins to urge his daughter to come home. Those urgings become more insistent the more Pamela tells them about her employer, Mr. B. After several assaults and an extended “kidnapping” and after Pamela repeatedly tries to return to the safety of her parents, Mr. B. reforms and finally wins Pamela’s heart the proper way.

I have to admit. If my master hid in a closet for whatever reason I would find that to be a bit creepy. No. Not a bit. A lot creepy!

Author fact: Like Benjamin Franklin, Richardson was an apprentice to a printer.

Book trivia: Pamela is Richardson’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Pamela one of the earliest novels written in the form of a letter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 79).


“Garden Party”

Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.

Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.

Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.

Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).


Man in Gray Flannel

Wilson, Sloan. The Man in Gray Flannel. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

Reason read: Wilson was born in the month of May. Read in his honor.

This is the story of Tom Rath and economic survival in the 1950s era. Tom’s wife, Betsy and their three children want the good life. Tom is determined to give it to them, even if it means slogging to work doing a job he doesn’t completely enjoy. When a new prospect for employment pops up Rath jumps at the chance to move up the ladder but it is not without consequences.
The Man in Gray Flannel epitomizes the proverbial meaning of life in a material world. It is also a study of 1950s conformity and climbing the corporate ladder. You have one man who is a slave to his workaholic lifestyle and is miserable because of it while another man is angry because he can never get ahead. Tom’s boss, from the outside, projects an image of ease and calm amidst his wealth while Tom encounters roadblocks in every aspect of his life. The new higher paying job is not what he thought it would be. Secrets from his time as a solider in World War II will not stay buried. His wife wants more and more. Even the seemingly straightforward last will and testament of his grandmother’s estate doesn’t seem to be in his favor.
Confessional: the odd thing is, despite all of Tom’s setbacks and struggles, I couldn’t entirely feel for him. I felt more for his boss.

Author fact: This is Sloan Wilson’s first book.

Book trivia: The Man in Gray Flannel is autobiographical.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about The Man in Gray Flannel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade:1950” (p 177).


Best of Everything

Jaffe, Rona. The Best of Everything. New York: Penguin Books, 1958.

Reason read: August is the best time to read Chick Lit.

The year is 1952 and women in the workplace are finding their collective ambitious voice. In The Best of Everything five young women seemingly only have the employment of a New York publishing company in common. Caroline wants to climb the corporate ladder; to go from typist to editor. April is as naive as they come but learns the timeless power of sex appeal. Gregg has the life of a jet setting actress, but secretly wants to settle down and be a housewife. Barbara is a single mother with a young daughter and Mary Agnes is mousy; too shy for words.

One central theme to The Best of Everything is the need women feel to protect themselves from predatory men. They are always defending themselves against the less than admirable advances of the amorous kind. There is a great deal of strategic purse shuffling and genius body blocking at parties and at the office. Yet, they all want to be married to respectable men.

A few quotes (out of hundred) to quote, “It’s like holding hands and jumping off the top of a building; did we think it was going to be any easier because we were holding hands?” (p 95), “It was like trying to categorize something in order to make it exist” (p 118), “The hard mechanical palm he had extended to her in his handshake had not been a unique phenomenon, it had simply been an uncovered part of the entire unyielding whole” (p 164), and probably the most tragic quote ever, “She leaned out the window and all of a sudden the mile long limousine with the two of them in it and the liveried chauffeur and the armful of rises and the soft music and the hip flask if bourbon wasn’t glamorous anymore; it was ridiculous; they were two frantic stupid people speeding through an ugly-smelling countryside to attend the murder of love” (p 194).

Author fact: In 2005 Jaffe wrote a foreword to The Best of Everything. In it she admitted her rise to success happened before she had even published the book. Who she knew helped a great deal.

Book trivia: The Best of Everything is Rona Jaffe’s first novel and it became a New York Times Best Seller and a movie.

Nancy said:  The Best of Everything is a given when thinking about the category of fiction that primarily explores the lives of young, single women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Chick Lit” (p 53).


“Xingu”

Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.

Reason read: June is short story month.

This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.

In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.

Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.

Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).