Saturday, November 11, 2006

Maisie Dobbs

A looooong time ago (it feels like) a customer told me that I should read the books about Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Except she pronounced it "Macy Dobbs", which led to some googling confusion, let me tell you. So now I stumbled across two books in the series at the library, and have read them - albeit in the wrong order; I read Birds of a Feather first, and the debut Maisie Dobbs second. But that doesn't matter.

This series falls into a cathegory that I, as you know, am quite fond of, namely novels about crime-solving during or just after WW1. Our heroine Maisie has been a nurse in France, and though she made it back alive she lost her sweetheart. Maisie is a working-class girl who has had the good fortune of being discovered by the lady of the house she was a maid in and who has been given a singular education. In short, she is a little too good to be true, as she has not only become knowledgable in the hazy science of psychology, but also in a multitude of other subjects including Eastern oum-ish ancient wisdom.

I'm not quite sure why so many of these authors who set their stories in the past have to make their main characters so perfect. Why can't they be good enough for their time? For some reason the writer doesn't want them to be labouring under the prejudices and faults that most people had at that time in history, instead they have to be more modern - but this breaks the spell, in my opinion.

As a contrast, the policeman in Rosa by Jonathan Rabb was not a superman, but an ordinary, weak man. Intelligent, but not always nice. He cheats on his wife, he betrays his partner. This is more real, this is what people are. Rosa, incidentally, is set in Berlin 1919 and is based on the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. I haven't written about it in detail, but I recommend it on the whole.

The other week my husband and I went and saw Babel at the cinema. One of the things I found so appealing about the film (please see it!) was that no nationality or gender was portrayed as inherently better than any other. People were people, sometimes weak, sometimes stronger. And even smart, loving people did stupid things. You didn't get a free pass because you belonged to a minority that has always been short-changed in Hollywood's portrayal of it. People in general are a bit daft, and a hero in a detective story should be no different unless there's a very good reason.

Anyway (I'm rambling, but hey), I'd read more of Winspear's books, but I don't think they're that great all in all. Too idealistic. But the plotlines hold up, and the characters are endearing on the whole. Nothing worth buying in hardback though, if you see what I mean.


Marie Christopher said...

That's a series that I have on my list to read also. I love this genre.

bani said...

Aaaaah, another one! :D