Dying to Read (英語) ペーパーバック – 2011/4/21
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'The writer did it, ' claims Lacenaire, the talking parrot, but what does a bird know about who actually killed Augustin Cox, late of Bedfont, an in between area beloved of J. G. Ballard? New to the capital, Geraldine Mycroft is in search of the real London. When she answers an employment ad for a Detective Agency, run by the eccentric Norman aka Norma Bones, she is determined to do things by the book. But which book? Will Queneau give the clue to the case, or will it be more Margery Allingham in this post-Ealing comedy murder mystery?
The most striking problem is Elliott's use of commas, which is so sparing that one is left to wonder whether there was a shortage of them in Twickenham at the time of writing. That may sound petty, but it isn't really. Commas are vital to the way the brain interprets compound and/or complex sentences, and their absence where they're expected trips up the reading experience. When confronted with a sentence like "Like other clients he seemed concerned about the state of his hair for he ran his fingers twice through the thick silver locks which surmounted his still boyish face before his hostess appeared," the mind needs to stop and process all the information that's being provided, which interrupts the flow of the narrative.
Generally the problems of prose in Dying to Read come from these efforts to squeeze more into a single sentence than it can reasonably be expected to hold. Others, though, feel like the work of a writer who knows enough to attempt a stylistic flourish but not enough to achieve it. The result is wit without elegance, dialogue where you can see the joke but are too distracted by the woodenness with which it's expressed to be amused. Expressed in such language, philosophical rumination and emotional reflection feel less profound than they actually are.
Which is a shame, because the central characters, for all their foibles, are roundly-drawn, and the mystery itself is satisfyingly complex, taking in lectures on cynicism, the underworld of spanking fetishists, a talking parrot who may or may not know something useful, and a cross-dressing elderly detective who thinks the best way to solve a murder is to find a piece of fiction that follows a similar pattern. Events move at a fast pace, and while much of what happens is irrelevant to the investigation itself, germane twists do come up often enough to make the novel compelling despite its stylistic limitations. There is, I think, no prose sufficiently awful that a worthwhile concept and solid execution can't make up for it, and, for all its frustrations, the prose of Dying to Read is nowhere near awful. For readers who enjoy whimsical-satirical mystery, it's well worth a look.
The prepublication blurb goes something like this; "The writer did it," claims Lacenaire, the talking parrot, but what does a bird know about who actually killed Augustin Cox, late of Bedfont, an in between area beloved of J. G. Ballard? New to the capital, Geraldine Mycroft is in search of the real London. When she answers an employment ad for a Detective Agency, run by the eccentric Norman aka Norma Bones, she is determined to do things by the book. But which book? Will Queneau give the clue to the case, or will it be more Margery Allingham in this post-Ealing comedy murder mystery? An up-to-the-minute capturing of life, love and death in "Heathrow perimeterville," Dying to Read is quintessentially British in its celebration of the small-scale, and in the humane skepticism of its observant eye, but continental undercurrents are at work here, experimental and expansive, making this novel a true citizen of world literature.' And that just about gives you all the information you need to know about the story.
As for the technique of writing, it simply sparkles with wit, with experimentation, and with originality. Following the death of one Augustin Cox introduces some unforgettable characters whose personalities become as fascinating as murder mystery. And this is an indication of the mastery of the English language held by John Elliott. This is one of those books as treasurable as it is entertaining. Thank goodness for Chomu Press! Grady Harp, April 11