Update: The Hobgoblin’s father passed away this morning. The Hobgoblin is doing okay, but please do keep him in your thoughts.
Unfortunately, things are not looking good for the Hobgoblin’s father, so the Hobgoblin will be flying to Houston tomorrow to visit him and will stay through much of the week. I’m planning to write a bookish post now because it’ll distract me nicely for a little while, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to post in the coming days. For those of you who got to know the Hobgoblin through his blog, keep him in your thoughts this week if you would — I’m sure he’d appreciate it.
So, first let me say that I’m 2/3 of the way through Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and I’m loving it. I’ll write more about it when I’ve finished, but for now I just want to say it’s such a pleasure to read — pleasurable in a disturbing way, yes, but pleasurable nonetheless.
But what I really wanted to write about was having finished listening to Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs on audio. This is a series with four books in it so far, I believe; I listened to the third one a while back (it was what was available on the library shelf at the time) and this time I went back to the first one. I’ve liked them well enough to want to find the second and fourth books in the series and listen to those too. They make perfect audiobooks, in my opinion, since they are good stories and fairly easy to follow so I don’t have to concentrate too, too hard to follow the story as I’m driving.
The books are labeled mysteries, but they don’t strike me as typical of the genre — although I don’t know the genre very well. But the interest in them, for me at least, has more to do with the main character and the time period, World War I and afterward, rather than the mystery Maisie has to solve, which, in the first novel, gets solved fairly early and then the focus shifts elsewhere.
This is really the story of how Maisie grew up and how she became a “psychologist and investigator,” as her office door proclaims. Her story strikes me as perhaps not quite believable, but it’s an appealing story anyway. She is the daughter of a working-class father who sells vegetables for a living; after her mother dies, her father places her into service and shortly thereafter the family she now works for discovers her intelligence and her interest in reading. They provide her with an education, which eventually allows her to shift from being a personal maid to focusing solely on her studies. She attends university, and then World War I begins. Maisie serves as a nurse during the war, seeing much suffering that has left her with many painful memories.
But this story is actually sandwiched between sections that tell about Maisie’s life after the war where she is establishing her business investigating cases often of a personal nature — her first case begins as an investigation into a possible marital infidelity. This investigation soon takes Maisie mentally back into the war period as she investigates a series of mysterious suicides amongst war veterans. Along the way to solving her case, she must face her own personal history and the losses she suffered in the war.
Maisie is an appealing character: smart, talented, ambitious, and haunted by the past. She is, perhaps, too good to be true, but I’m willing to forgive that. And the material about the war is very interesting; Winspear gives a lot of detail about what it was like to be a nurse in France, the training that Maisie went through and what her actual work was like at the front. And what happens after the war is fascinating too, the way the class structure that was so rigid before the war (although it did bend enough to allow Maisie to rise from her working-class origins) begins to crumble.
So if you’re looking for an enjoyable read (or listen) with a historical focus, I think you might like this series.