Maisie Dobbs and other reading notes

The Mapping of Love and Death is Jacqueline Winspear’s latest Maisie Dobbs novel. I’ll admit at this point that this series isn’t wowing me, exactly, although I do want to keep reading the latest installments, just to see where it goes. The Maisie Dobbs books are good ones to turn to at this particular point of the year, when I’m tired and busy and ready for the end of the school year, but the end of the school year is still so far away. At this point I need something familiar and absorbing and not terribly challenging, and Maisie Dobbs is just the thing.

The series doesn’t wow me for two reasons, basically, one of which is that the plots have begun to feel lackluster. I’m not one to read much for plot, though, so this is okay. The historical context and the character development are more interesting, so that’s good. The other problem, though, is that I get irritated by the way Maisie uses her unusually strong powers of intuition to figure out who committed the crime. This feels too much like cheating. Yes, Maisie is smart and has the powers of deduction we would expect of a detective, but still she relies too heavily on feelings of foreboding that come over her whenever something significant is about to happen.

But, on the other hand, I do want to know what happens to Maisie, having followed her story this far, and the book is satisfying in that regard. Significant things happen to her, and I’m glad I know about them. For a much better, much more thorough review, read Danielle’s thoughts here.

On to other bookish things: I finished Balzac’s novel Cousin Bette and never wrote much about it, and at this point, I’ve forgotten too much about the novel to have much to say. I’ll just say that I didn’t like it much and move on. I’m not ready to give up on Balzac entirely, though, as surely I’m missing something? I’m not one to dismiss a classic author quite so easily just because I failed with him once. So some day perhaps I’ll pick up a shorter novel of his, if there is one, and see if my mind has changed.

I just now finished W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo, but more thoughts on that later, as the Slaves of Golconda are discussing the book this Wednesday. I am also in the middle of David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I am enjoying it immensely. I have read five of the book’s seven essays (many of them quite long), and I think every one of them is great. Wallace is a writer who can make any subject interesting. I just finished an essay on the film director David Lynch and I loved it, even though if I’ve ever seen a Lynch film I don’t remember it. There’s another great essay on the Illinois State Fair and another one on tennis, math, the midwest, and wind. The other two I’ve read are more literary in nature, one of them a pre-Infinite Jest essay that shows Wallace thinking through some of the ideas that made their way into the novel. It’s all excellent, and I haven’t even gotten to the title essay yet, probably his most famous essay of them all. It’s crossing my mind now and then that I might want to reread Infinite Jest soon. I don’t know if I will, but I am tempted. It’s just such a fabulous novel.

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

12 responses to “Maisie Dobbs and other reading notes

  1. You’ve hit on exactly why I pretty much gave up on Maisie Dobbs midway through book 3 (which I actually lost while on vacation two years ago and never felt motivated to seek out and finish). I liked the setting and the period details, and aspects of Maisie’s character were interesting, but the intuitive leaps drove me nuts. Ideally in detective fiction, I want all the information needed to solve the crime to be there in the story, even if I don’t have the factual knowledge or brain power to put it together. Otherwise, it feels like cheating. I did listen to the fourth book last year on audio, and it was entertaining enough for driving back and forth to work, but I still didn’t love it.

    I really do want to read some of David Foster Wallace’s essays. I loved bits and pieces of Infinite Jest, but the whole overwhelmed me. So essays seem just right.

  2. I just finished Vertigo last night and I’m looking forward to seeing what you thought of it. And ready for a reread of Infinite Jest already? That’s impressive. However much I mean to I’ve still not managed to read any of his books. Sigh.

  3. Oh no, Slaves is on Wednesday? Somehow I never got my head around this one. I will try and get hold of a copy of Sebald tomorrow and get at least some read in time. Never mind about Balzac – there are thousands of classic authors out there and no one can like every one.

  4. I’ve read all the Maisie Dobbs books up to Messenger of Truth, but I REALLY hated that one and I think it kind of sapped me of my desire to keep reading the series. I still have the next three books after it, but whenever I consider reading them I realize that I expect them to be pretty awful and I’m unexcited to read them. I just don’t want to spend time on mediocre books and at this point that’s what I’ve been thinking this series is. But maybe if I’m feeling overwhelmed and burnt out at some point and want something that’s not all that challenging then I’ll try the next book in the series and see how that goes.

  5. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the essays in Consider the Lobster. It’s always nice when you read someone who slightly intimidates you and you find out you really like their work. I listened to an interview on NPR (in their archives) with him and he seemed like such an interesting, and articulate person. I’ll have to add A Supposedly Fun Thing to my wishlist as well.

  6. Whoa, Foster Wallace wrote an essay on David Lynch? A close friend of mine is about to wet himself in excitement. Actually, on second thought, I may try to keep it from him until his birthday in August…in any case, thanks for the tip!

  7. I’m still pretty much in the first parts in Vertigo and I just feel so lost almost. I don’t think I’ll be contributing much to the discussion but I can’t wait to read your thoughts. Maybe they’ll help me with the book!

  8. I haven’t read Maisie yet, but I will. Familiar series are good when life gets busy and you need a temporary escape. It’s also fun to look forward to the latest installment of a series that you follow. Having said that, I agree that authors who rely on too much detective’s intuition, or coincidence, are disappointing. One of the knitting mystery series I read is like that, but so far I’m able to overlook the lame plot because I like the characters and the location.

    Must, must get a copy of Wallace’s essays soon! The more I read about his work on your blog, the more he intrigues me.

  9. I read the first Maisie Dobbs during Dewey’s Read-A-Thon (which I’ll never put myself through again at this age). I don’t remember much about it – I was a little addled at that point. I liked it, but perhaps not enough to read more.

  10. Teresa — I started off listening to the Maisie books, and I enjoyed them more that way. I listened to three or four and then read the rest, and the more I read, the more my enthusiasm wanes. I do think you would enjoy the Wallace book. I think his fiction is very essayistic, and in a way that mode is one he seems so comfortable in. In the essays, you get the wonderful tone and intelligence (and the footnotes!) without the overwhelmingness.

    Stefanie — I’m heading over to your place to read your post on Vertigo very soon :) When you do get to Wallace, you have a treat in store for you!

    Litlove — you are right about Balzac, definitely. And yet I don’t like giving up so easily — I can be very stubborn that way! If you do get a chance to read some of the Sebald, I’d love to know your thoughts. It’s definitely a thought-provoking book.

    Steph — it does sound like the Maisie books aren’t for you anymore! There’s no need to return to them, of course, unless you get the urge too. I was definitely in the mood for a relatively easy read when I read this book, so it worked well. But if a book is more frustrating than comforting, then it seems like time to stop.

    Danielle — I’ve seen one interview with Wallace, and I liked the way he talked (although he has some funny mannerisms and seemed really shy). I think you will enjoy the other essays in the book. I just finished A Supposedly Fun Thing and thought it was absolutely fabulous.

    Emily — I’m very glad to help out! And yes, the essay is really good and quite long — very satisfying for a Lynch fan.

    Iliana — I felt lost in the book too, and I think that’s part of the point — we feel a little vertigo just like some of the narrators do. It does make for an interesting experience!

    Debby — I’m interested enough in the characters in the Maisie Dobbs series that it makes it worth reading on, but if I weren’t, then I don’t think I’d read further. Then there wouldn’t be enough to motivate me. But as it is, I AM happy to know what is happening in the characters’ lives. I would really love to know what you think of Wallace’s essays! His essay on dictionaries in Consider the Lobster is the place to start, in my opinion.

    Grad — I don’t think I could ever do a read-a-thon! I just don’t have the stamina or the attention span. But Maisie Dobbs does seem like a good book to pick up for an extended period of reading.

  11. It’s funny about Maisie. I keep reading her (have only read the first four), but I think I really liked the first one best. Usually, when it comes to series, I think an author hits her/his peak sometime after the first one, and that if they go on too long (e.g. Janet Evanovich), they tend to go downhill.

  12. Emily — I enjoyed the first Maisie too, although I listened to the third one first, I think, and liked it as well. Going back to the beginning was fun. But yeah, your point about going downhill does seem to be true, at least here.

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