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Just read a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery. My goodness. I had no idea. No mother, useless absentee father who also died young, brought up by unsympathetic relatives, engaged to a rotter while in love with another rotter, broke it off and got stalked, couldn’t marry her second fiance because she had to take care of her ailing grandmother for years, went off him by the time the grandmother died but felt obliged to marry him anyway, whereupon he went periodically insane for the rest of his life and once pointed a gun at a guest. First son turned out to be a deviant criminal philandering money-wasting scumbag who ruined the family reputation, second son died at birth, third son wasn’t a girl. Publisher cheated her out of a ton of money and dragged her through court for ten years; husband was partly at fault for a car crash and got sued by the other chaps for allegedly causing their prostate trouble and diabetes, which even at the time medical science could see was obviously bunk; but the judge was deaf and they lost the case anyway. One of their maids was a malicious gossip who spread rumours that Maud was having an affair with a family friend. Maud herself suffered from periodic bouts of extreme depression and ended her life in possible suicide, after having been addicted to barbiturates and bromides for some time, as was her husband. And towards the end of her life, despite her immense popularity, modernist critics started panning her books as Everything Wrong with Canadian Literature because of their romance and sentimentality. Plus she spent several years being pursued by a deranged lesbian stalker-fan who kept threatening suicide.
Altogether thoroughly dispiriting – and long – 600 pages plus endnotes. Knowing ahead of time about the suicide I kept waiting for her to die every time something tragic happened, and she kept not doing it. Which is laudable, I suppose, but it did make the last few hundred pages drag on rather drearily with calamity after calamity. So it is with great relief that I am now reading PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, which is smashing. He writes just like you’d expect, was genuinely fond of his wife and adored his stepdaughter Leonora, aka ‘Snorkles’. Thus far in the book nothing tragic has happened at all – I haven’t got up to WWII yet – his career is meteoric, he is delightfully frank and gleeful about the tons of money he’s making, he tells everyone earnestly and invariably how good his latest story is, and he hits up all his friends (and Leonora) for plot ideas in the most charming way. It’s a great relief to the spirit. And I was thoroughly chuffed when he wrote a friend who knew Dorothy Sayers that Five Red Herrings was ‘lousy’ and that he ought to tell her to skip the dreary bus-timetable stuff and go back to her usual style. Couldn’t agree more. I love Dorothy Sayers, but a murder-mystery shouldn’t require maths and a chart in order to keep up with (neither of which I used, so I got thoroughly confused and ended up having to take the solution on faith. For all I know there’s a missing half-hour in the plot that makes the whole thing the greatest gaffe in the history of crime fiction, though I’m sure having gone that far she was careful to make it all work out.) I can just about cope with Agatha Christie’s occasional floor-plan showing how the window in the library is adjacent to the dumbwaiter, but that’s as much STEM-work as I’m willing (or indeed able) to put into light fiction. Authors take note.
Spring is as usual bringing a plethora of wildlife to the orchard. Discounting the slugs, which are Nasty, it is great fun. Every day is spent with our ears cocked for Dennis the Quail-Bird, Gus the tui, some unnamed but snobby pheasants, and the peacocks across the gulley. Then in the evening we’re liable to see Twitchy the Elusive, an extremely good-looking rabbit who has taken up residence in the garden; or, somewhat less pleasingly, our two rats Rubbish and Shortly. Shortly is a baby and thus moderately cute, but Rubbish – unlike his predecessor, Bouncy the Pizza Rat – is not at all prepossessing. Later still at night, we get possums galore and the occasional feral cat. They kept the pigs awake last night and Helpdesk Man had to go out and defend the household with his air rifle. He shot one possum, scared everything else away and accidentally put a bunch of leftover lead pellets through the washing machine. It killed them. Weird, no?