One book I have been able to enjoy lately, in spite of my reading slump, is P.D. James’s The Lighthouse, which I’m listening to on audio in my car on the way to and from work. I’m not sure if it’s the book itself or the experience of listening rather than reading that makes the difference, but I have looked forward to listening to it every chance I get over the last week or so. I finished it yesterday.
One of the things that drew me to the book, in addition to the interesting characters, the well-crafted plot, the atmosphere of literate intelligence, was its setting. It takes place on Combe Island, which has been used for the last half-century or so as a place of retreat for busy, stressed VIPs who need a place to relax for a week or two. It’s a quiet place, with no cell phones, no noise, and no work (at least for the VIPs). Visitors to the island spend their time reading, listening to music, walking along the shore, and joining each other occasionally for dinner, although they can remain completely isolated if they prefer. Food appears regularly at their doorsteps and the guest cottages stay immaculately clean. The island’s most important rule is that nobody should bother the visitors. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about how much I need such a retreat right now. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? Yes, I’m not a VIP, and yes, it’s not entirely safe — murder may occur, but at this point I might consider risking it.
I enjoyed the novel so much that today I began listening to it again. I’m so terrible at figuring out the plots of mystery novels and I’m bad at remembering all the details to put everything together properly at the end (especially when I’m listening as opposed to reading) that I thought I might enjoy listening to it again knowing who the murderer is, to see how James prepares the reader for the ending. I haven’t the faintest clue how to go about plotting a mystery novel, and I have no intention of trying it myself, but I thought it would be interesting to learn a little about how James does it by paying closer attention than I could the first time around.
Really, since I have to commute, isn’t that a good way to spend the time?