As I was recovering from one LitFest and preparing for another and wondering why these things come along like buses and then nothing for months and months I paused for thought.
With a performance to think about for Port Eliot I was reading through all those wonderful comments you all very kindly posted in response to my quick survey of opinions and I was actually thinking about all this in relation to why I don't do criticism, which several of you mentioned.
I only write about books I've really loved, how that could get a bit monotonous, but how that's just the way it is here.
I've carried on dipping in and out of all things Canadian and Margaret Atwood's question as a writer popped off the page and bit me as I read Negotiating With the Dead, a Writer in Writing,
'But for every letter and every book, there is an intended reader, a true reader. How then to deliver the book into the right hands.'
and I was reflecting on all that in relation to a book I have only just read, light years after the rest of you probably loved it.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale was going to be the subject of a 'happening' within the house at Port Eliot this weekend but if it was I missed it all. However you might remember what a wonderfully atmospheric setting this house is for a 'happening' after that very ghostly, candlelit Rebecca encounter we had in the basement there last year.
Now Mr Whicher has won prizes and accolades galore, everyone's raved about it but it has sat on my shelf unread for one reason only.
In the book's very early days, before it had received such public acclaim, I overheard one friend passing her copy onto another friend.
'Is it any good?' asked the receiver
'So so...not as good as I thought...no, not really.'
I should have known better but that was enough for me to put off reading it heaven knows how many times this last year, until I saw it on the Port Eliot programme and picked it off the shelf.
It had clearly been the wrong book for that reader but why might that stop it being the right book for me?
As it happens it was the right book for me and I regret not reading it sooner.
I loved the whole history of police detective investigation woven into this actual and very mystifying case, the philosophical debate about the nature of evidence and detectives so new to the whole crime scene and viewed as spies, all added to the way the crime preyed on all those well-catalogued Victorian anxieties. Alongside all this a wonderful history of the growth of the sensation novel and how that was tamed by the detective novel and it all sent me back to Lyn Pykett's The Sensation Novel and the idea that
'at least one of the female protagonists in a sensation novel is likely to be assertive, transgressive and a creature of passion, in other words bad, mad or dangerous to know.'
Enough to move Wilkie Collins to the top of the pile for reading the minute a leaf falls off a tree and I head into autumn and the traditional season of the nineteenth century novel. I haven't read The Moonstone in years and have yet to read No Name and Armadale.
So we stay with books I've loved here plus the occasional book that I think I've completely missed the point with and need some help sorting out, because though I might not be the intended reader there's every chance you will be and I'd hate to do a Mr Whicher on you all.