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Posts Tagged ‘bleak house’

I’ve been an inveterate reader of mysteries since my Nancy Drew days, and Asakiyume, who follows my mini reviews of mysteries and other books at GoodReads, suggested that I blog about what I think makes a good mystery. Maybe other readers of these books will chime in.

I like a book that is literate by normal fiction standards. There should be at least one likable character, several plausible perps, no cliches, and loose ends tied up in the conclusion. You should be able to look back in the story and see that clues were carefully laid, and not just in the last quarter. But the clues should be puzzling as you read along. The reader’s brain should be engaged at all times, trying to figure out where the plot is headed.

I like the bad guys or gals to be caught, not to die a natural death or commit suicide, which always feels like a cop-out.

Some people say that Bleak House was the first detective mystery. Dickens certainly sets a high standard for all the measures I value.

I am often drawn to a mystery because of a locale that’s exotic, at least to me, and I find that many authors, even if they have a weak plot, do research into the setting that I appreciate. Still, I may have to take a long break from this genre as I am getting extremely frustrated with increasing inconsistencies, carelessness about plots, typos, and the hostility to readers that starts to appear when authors feel too much pressure to keep churning out more books.

It’s hard to define what I mean by hostility to readers. I noted it, for example, in Martha Grimes, Walter Mosley, and others I once loved but had to stop reading. It has something to do with throwing favorite characters at the reader in a perfunctory way with no new shades. It has something to do with the bones of the formula being too visible, to the point that you can almost see the writer at her desk with her chart of what has to happen in each chapter. And it has something to do with endings that fail to tie up loose threads. I often feel resentment from an author about the pressure from readers to keep delivering this exact sort of book when perhaps the author would prefer to tackle a completely different genre.

Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

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I love thinking about sunlight and shadow. Dickens uses them a lot for Richard and Ada’s story in Bleak House — maybe my favorite book of all time.

“So young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise, they went on lightly through the sunlight … So they passed away into the shadow, and were gone.”

Many of you know what the decades-long case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce did to Richard and Ada’s bright hopes. I’ve come to think that it was not so much Richard’s fevered expectations of an inheritance that brought the most sorrow, but his need to fix blame. Blame is corrosive.

When I interviewed a formerly homeless Marine last week and he started telling me about how upset he was that something bad had just happened with his benefits, I was touched by how he kept reminding himself how to cope, saying, “I believe in fixing the problem — not the blame.” Words to live by.

The first three photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the effects of sunlight and shadow were especially breathtaking. (I can never resist that old graveyard. You’ve seen it here in all weathers.)

The next three were taken at the playground near John’s house. Every few months, new creatures appear on that tall tree stump. (You’ve seen previous creature photos, too, on this blog.)

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New research in the UK is providing confirmation of my belief that boredom is not always a destructive thing but often a path to creativity. Other people have had the same impression. After all, the site with some of the most creative links on the web calls itself Bored Panda.

Recently, my husband sent along a relevant article by the BBC’s David Robson, who caught my interest at once with his claim that boredom was first mentioned in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. (I’ve read that novel enough times to know that Robson spelled Lady Dedlock’s name wrong, though.)

For his report, Robson interviewed Sandi Mann, coauthor with Rebekah Cadman of a University of Central Lancashire study on boredom.

He begins, “I’ve met lots of people with a talent to bore in my time, but Sandi Mann is one of the few to have honed it as a craft. Eager volunteers visiting her lab may be asked to carry out less-than-thrilling chores like copying out lengthy lists of telephone numbers. They mostly tolerate the task politely, she says, but their shuffling bottoms and regular yawns prove they are hardly relishing the experience. …

“Mann has found that their ennui boosted their performance on standard tests of creativity – such as finding innovative uses for everyday objects. She suspects the tedium encouraged their minds to wander, which leads to more associative and creative ways of thinking. ‘If we don’t find stimulation externally, we look internally – going to different places in our minds,’ she says. ‘It allows us to make leaps of imagination. We can get out of the box and think in different ways.’ Without the capacity for boredom, then, we humans may have never achieved our artistic and technological heights. …

“Given this benefit, Mann thinks we should try not to fear boredom when it hits us. ‘We should embrace it,’ she says – a philosophy that she has now taken into her own life. ‘Instead of saying I’m bored when I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll put music on and allow my mind to wander – knowing that it’s good for me. And I let my kids be bored too – because it’s good for their creativity.’ ”

My own approach to being stuck at the end of a long line is to recite the poems I know. I also carry in my bag a few other poems in case I run out.

More here, at the BBC, which also covers the darker side of boredom.

Photo: Socialphy
Yawning.

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You have to have light to have shadows. You have to have shadows to see the possibilities of light.

I took one of these shadow photos in early morning and one in late afternoon. When I went for a walk around noon, I carried my camera in case there might be other shadows that interested me. In the end I concluded that shadows on houses interest me more than shadows on sidewalks. Something to do with knowing that lives are lived inside the houses?

Probably my favorite Dickens novel is Bleak House. I have read it several times. A recurring motif is light and shadow. I am reminded in particular of the young couple walking through light and shadow, shadow and light. They are to experience much that is good, much that is dark. Some people accuse Dickens of writing plots that are too convoluted and bizarre, but what could be more true to life than that?

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