Tag Archives: adventure

Audiobook Review: The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

24th August 2011

Agatha Christie continues to astound me. I am sure you guys have noticed my Shelfari sidebar and the fact that it keeps flashing more Agatha Christie titles, but I can’t help myself. First, I listened to And Then There Were None. Then I read The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary. This week I listened to The Man in the Brown Suit, on your many recommendations.

The woman was a versatile writer, which may just be the understatement of the last half a century. The Man in the Brown Suit, in case you are a non-mystery-reader (we can still be friends), I have to tell you up front, is more of a romantic jaunt, in the literary sense of the word. After finishing it yesterday, all I wanted to do was drink buckets of champagne and interject the words “loads” and “simply” into every sentence.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anne Beddingfield is raised by her anthropologist father, a well-known academic but a poor man more wrapped up in the dead than the living. After he dies, Anne refuses a more “suitable” arrangement and determines to find adventure like she has read in the (most likely salacious) The Perils of Pamela. Adventure finds her when a man on the train platform near her falls to his death after seeing something behind Anne that frightens him. The doctor who tends to the man wears a brown suit, and after he leaves hurriedly, Anne has her suspicions as to whether or not he is actually a doctor. The plot thickens, as they say, and hot on a clue, she knows she has found her adventure, setting off for South Africa, only to wind up with much more than she ever bargained while traveling with a hodgepodge group: Suzanne Bailey, Sir Eustace Pedler and his suspect secretaries Padgett and Rauburn, and Colonel Race.

The novel is told from Anne’s recollections but also from the diary of Sir Eustace Pedler. Ah, Sir Eustace, he likes his domesticity and hates to be put out. While Suzanne and Anne exist, he is put out. They just don’t act as women should, yet he admits he doesn’t really understand women. He complains a lot, about the weather, his secretaries, and South Africa, yet he is absolutely loveable and quite an important figure in the novel.

Anne – and Emilia Fox, who did a marvelous job narrating – have me wanting to walk around affecting an accent. Anne is full of grit and doesn’t frighten easily. She is practical in many ways, but she knows her life is not meant to be dour and domestic. She is, in many ways, a precursor to Nancy Drew. She is the girl we – or at least, I – want to be.

Between the two, there are hijinks aplenty, and the novel is part travelogue, mystery, and romance all in one. There wasn’t a single second I was disappointed in this book…until it ended.

Read this: and dream of the wilds of South Africa, train travel, and refinement. Maybe have a cup of tea to revive you when you realize you’ve never had such an adventure.

P.S. If you aren’t big into audiobooks but would like to try them out, I would say start with Agatha Christie. The books lend themselves very well to the format, and they are just such fun to listen to!

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

20th July 2011

The short version: A story of college students at a school of magic who aren’t happy with their lives and sit around drinking and complaining before they graduate and do a lot more drinking and complaining before they go looking for trouble…and find it.

Warning: a somewhat snarky review follows.

***

Quentin is the smartest kid he knows, but he is bored as hell. His parents are wrapped up in their own lives, and the girl he’s in love with isn’t in love with him. He has grown up reading a series of books about children who had adventures in the land of Fillory, and he’s stuck on Earth. In other words, his life is atrocious, and no one else has ever experienced such horrendous torture. You should all feel very sorry for him. Quentin certainly does, until an odd series of events leads him to Brakebills College, an elite school of magic where he passes the entrance exam.

From then on, it’s magic and studying and magic and studying with a few high and low points, like having sex while transformed into a fox, nearly dying in the wilds of Antarctica, and sitting around playing welters, a game of magic. Then Quentin and his friends, Eliot, Janet, Josh, and girlfriend Alice all graduate. Life as a magician in the real world is pretty boring. Do you get a real job? Well, why would you? There is a mysterious “magician’s fund” that apparently is never depleted and provides magicians money when they need it. (I’m all in, by the way.) However, again these characters are miserable – drinking too much, doing drugs, having meaningless sex – and they need something. That something is Fillory. Because lo and behold, it really exists. So the gang ponies up and heads to Fillory, but it isn’t all magic bunnies and beautiful nymphs. Something is wrong in Fillory, and Quentin must figure out what it is in order to try to be happy. (Here’s where the plot finally comes in, right around page 240.)

***

Because that’s all this novel is really about. Quentin is really really unhappy with absolutely no real reason (until the end) to be unhappy. But I have to start this review with this: Lev Grossman has some serious writing chops. In fact, that’s the only reason I finished this novel because lord have mercy, it was long. And drawn out. And not a lot happened for two-thirds of the book. There is no overarching plot here, and I guess that’s what annoyed me the most. At times I checked to make sure it wasn’t a spoof of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, since it referenced each multiple times. Fillory was essentially Narnia, which made me think Grossman could have just used it in the book instead of creating something so darn similar but not calling it Narnia. I kept checking to see what page I was on because I could not believe how long it was taking me to read this book. Without any real plot to move the book along, Grossman relies on his characters, and they are kind of a bunch of assholes. They are selfish, lazy, and pretentious. Alice, Quentin’s girlfriend, was the only character I remotely liked, simply because her background and unhappiness made sense. Everyone else just sort of claimed unhappiness for sport. Alice is the only one who actually points it out, telling Quentin:

[L]ook at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it; there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.

And pretty much, he is miserable forever – at least the forever that is this book – even with a pretty cool, British-y magic school, some pretty darn good friends, and money out the wazoo. Ultimately, this book was an exercise in futility, reinforcing the idea that some people ain’t happy and ain’t never gonna be happy, no matter what. If that’s magic, I don’t really want any part of it.

So I gotta know – have you read this? Did you react at all to it like I did? Or have I lost my non-magical mind?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. All is not lost. The nice folks at Viking sent me this book and The Magician King, the sequel to this book, for me to read and review. Come back tomorrow for a giveaway and to see why I think it’s (somewhat) redemptive.

Other Reviews:

The New York Times

Fantasy Book Review

Entomology of a Bookworm