You know, you're happily reading other book blogs, and you suddenly think, Bloody Hell [you always preface sudden thoughts with that phrase in Australia ;-)], when did I last blog a book myself?, and you realise that it was nearly a month ago. And, yet, you've been reading like a crazy thing. Bad blogger. So, what have I been reading? Well, re-reading, in this case:
Josephine Tey Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
Lucy always noticed other women's legs, her own being a sad disappointment to her.
Miss Pym Disposes is a re-read for me, after I read 20th century vox's great review, with her excellent comparison to Gaudy Night. I love Tey's books - I was hooked as a teen when my English teacher gave me A Daughter of Time to read alongside our class text of Richard III. I love her quiet, almost actionless detective stories. (I will say at this point that I did not greatly warm to the first Nicola Upson book featuring Tey as detective.)
Half-past five, said the watch. Half-past five! Miss Pym stopped breathing and stared in unbelieving fascination. No, really, did any college, however physical and hearty, begin the day at half-past five! Anything was possible, of course, in a community which had use for neither bedside tables nor bedside lamps, but-half-past five! She put the watch to her small pink ear. It ticked faithfully. She squinted round her pillow at the garden which was visible from the window behind her bed. Yes, it certainly was early; the world had that unmoving just-an-apparition look of early morning. Well, well! Henrietta had said last night, standing large and majestical in the doorway: "Sleep well. The students enjoyed your lecture, my dear. I shall see you in the morning;" but had not seen fit to mention half-past-five bells.
Lucy Pym has written - somewhat to her own surprise - a best-selling book on psychology. She travels to an exclusive girls to give a lecture as a favour to the headmistress, with whom she went to school. The school is unusual - it grooms young ladies for careers related to physical activity and the sciences - future doctors, physios, games-mistresses, etc. Miss Tey's lecture goes down a treat and she is persuaded to stay on to do a little light mentoring and socializing with the girls.
They stood there on the gravel looking up at her, smiling. That was how she always remembered them afterwards. Standing there in the sunlight, easy and graceful; secure in their belief in the world's rightness and in their trust in each other. Untouched by doubt or blemish. Taking it for granted that the warm gravel under their feet was lasting earth, and not the precipice edge of disaster.
The book is wonderful in a number of ways: first up, Tey's writing is a complete joy. Then there is the personality of Miss Tey - a little insecure and flighty, thrilled that she has made enough money to live comfortably instead of as a school-mistress, in love with fashionable things, and, really, not that good a psychologist when plunged headlong into mysterious happenings. Her witty, catty inner voice is a delight, as she reworks what she sees into a more or less plausible (and, perhaps more or less reliable) narrative.
Lucy's capacity for doing nothing was almost endless, and had been the despair of both her preceptors and her friends.
And, of course, there's the actual crime, which doesn't take place until one has completely given up on there ever being a crime. The tension is evoked so beautifully that one almost hopes the inevitable will never happen. How will Miss Pym dispose? (The title's allusion to Thomas à Kempis' 'Man proposes, but God disposes' hints at the futility of judging others, even when the judge has written a bestseller on psychology.)
She could never get away from that other half of herself. It had sent her into fights with her knees knocking, it had made her speak when she wanted to hold her tongue, it had kept her from lying down when she was too tired to stand up. It would keep her from washing her hands now.
Or will it? Find out for yourselves!