I recently finished listening to the latest Maisie Dobbs novel on audio, Messenger of Truth. Now I have to wait for Winspear to publish the next novel before I can read any more Maisie Dobbs! And then I have a dilemma — do I read the book when it comes out, or do I wait for the audio version to get made and delivered to my library? I’m so used to listening to these books that sitting down and actually reading one won’t feel right. And I do love to listen to the readers with their accents and inflections — hearing the book in my head in my own voice as I read quietly will be a different experience entirely. But it could be quite a while before the audio comes out. So, I have no idea what I’ll do.
You’ll probably guess from the above that I liked the latest Maisie Dobbs novel. Winspear explores a new theme in this one: art and the artist. The crime victim is a painter who painted scenes from World War I that many people found disturbing and controversial. So Maisie gets to spend some time thinking about art’s function and purpose, how people react to ground-breaking and controversial art, and what motivates artists to create what they do. She also gets to question traditional stereotypes of artists — that they aren’t practical or worldly or capable — since the artist she is investigating doesn’t quite live up to the stereotype.
She also finds herself caught up in a social scene full of artists and bohemians, and she has to think about how she does and doesn’t fit in. She feels both drawn to them and a little uncertain how to act in this new world of night clubs and parties and dancing. Experiencing this mix of emotions, she is forced to think about her longing for a little excitement and even frivolity, qualities that have been largely absent from her life.
As always, the story is absorbing and fun, and Maisie saves the day!
At the end of the audio book was an interview with Winspear, and one of the questions was about the research she does to prepare for the books. It was quite fascinating to hear what she had to say. She described being interested in the post-WW I time period for a very long time, so that she has been doing research for the books even when not working on them directly. She described reading archival letters from soldiers writing to family back home and realizing that she might be the first person reading them after the original recipient. These letters help her in her quest to get the language just right; she works very hard to make sure the characters in her novels speak as people at the time spoke. She also works hard to get the clothing and accessories right (which explains all those mentions of clothing I was complaining about in an earlier post!), and to give the novels a sense of time and place by working historical events into the narrative.
And she spoke about how Maisie is a typical woman of her day in the sense that she is one of the many “surplus” women, left without a husband or lover after the war and forced to make a new kind of life for herself. Some women never adapted to these demands, but others, like Maisie, took on new challenges like owning businesses and becoming professionals of various sorts.
Maybe what I should do is read the book and then listen to the audio afterwards … that would be fun.