I’m in the middle of listening to the third Maisie Dobbs novel on audio for the second time; I listened to it about a year ago, and then listened to the first and second novels in the series last spring and this fall. I decided to listen to the third one again partly for the pure pleasure of it, and partly to get the whole story in the proper sequence. I’m trying to get the fourth one from the library (although my library system is a little skittish about sending CDs from one library to another, which is annoying). I wonder what it would be like to read one of these books … I’ve come to associate them so closely with a voice speaking to me as I drive to and from work.
I’m not entirely sure, but I think in the third installment Winspear is ridding her prose of some of the tics that annoyed me a bit in the second book. One of these is the habitual list of clothing her major and minor characters, and even those who are too minor to count as minor characters, are wearing: e.g., “the assistant, dressed in a blue cotton dress and matching cap decorated with yellow piping ….” Everyone seemed to get this treatment.
A little more serious, in my opinion, is the way Maisie never eats. In the second novel, she’s always picking at her food, skipping meals, realizing she’s hungry and then losing her appetite, asking for just a bit of dry toast, please. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t play into any of the novel’s themes in any way; it’s just a habit, and one Maisie seems to have lost by the third novel. I hate it when people don’t eat! As I was listening, I was trying to figure out how Maisie made it through her days with no food in her stomach and why she didn’t pass out from hunger at least once. I believe in all the other ways Maisie is a perfect character — I’m happy to believe in her amazing intuition, her ability to read body language, her way with setting people at ease — but I don’t believe she can make it through a day without eating.
I realize I may sound a little odd complaining about this. I’m kind of sensitive about my sensitivity about food. But as someone who can’t stand (can’t stand!!!) to be hungry, ever, even for a short while (I think my illness has made this worse), I got so distracted by Maisie’s refusal to eat. When I don’t eat, trust me, you should stay far, far away. I don’t quite get why other people aren’t the same way.
The not-eating thing feels like a quirk, but it also feels like a way of getting across the idea that Maisie is simply too important and too busy to spend much time or energy on food. It’s a way of saying she’s too wrapped up in her mind to take care of her body. Eating is too gross, too physical, and all Maisie’s energy has to go toward more ethereal things such as the mind and the emotions.
But, thank heavens, in the third novel, she’s finally recognizing she needs food; I just listened to a scene where she declares to her friend Priscilla that she’s starving and wants her lunch. Much better.