Saturday, October 24, 2009

Touch Not the Cat and Other Light Reading

On Monday, Oct. 19, in the Guardian Books Blog, I enjoyed Alison Flood's laudation of Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat, a 1976 Gothic which is out-of-print in England (in-print in the U.S., though). She was responding to 10 famous British writers' recommendations of “forgotten treasures of the literary world,” recently unveiled on Radio 4’s Open Book show. Flood had spent a recent afternoon rereading a second-hand copy of Stewart's novel and declared it lost treasure.

Well, I couldn't have been more thrilled. Kindred spirits? I adore Mary Stewart, my favorite 20th-century Gothic novelist, and am ecstatic to see her mentioned in a world that has gone Daphne du Maurier-mad (the Ph.D.s have rediscovered du Maurier, but are strangely silent on the subject of Stewart--surely a mistake). Touch Not the Cat is a book I haven’t reread, possibly because I’m uneasy about the narrator’s telepathy (a very weird element, not characteristic of Stewart’s fiction). But I started reading it last night and simply fell into it. The years fall away - suddenly I’m Bryony’s age - and I’m absolutely terrified that she’ll make a poor decision about love based on the fact that she doesn’t know who her telepathic friend is. (One of her cousins? Which one?) Her father has just died, she’s returned from a job in Madeira to live in the cottage on their estate (there’s an entail and the cottage is all she'll have), and her father, the victim of a hit-and-run accident, had ranted about danger in last words recorded in shorthand by a police secretary.

About the neglected books: Susan Hill's enthusiasm for F. M. Mayor’s The Rector’s Daughter, which I read and loved last year, has sent it to an Amazon best-sellers list. This seems to be the kind of thing that happens in the English book world all the time, but it's hard for me to imagine American radio having the same effect. Could NPR (surely our Radio 4 equivalent) send an old novel to the bestseller list? Would everybody suddenly start reading Susan Glaspell's Fidelity or Edna Ferber's So Big? (No. Not even Oprah could inspire Americans to read "old" books. Americans like the contemporary.)

Since finishing my post-modern contemporaries, or post-contemporary moderns, I’m in a light reading phase. I just finished P. G. Wodehouse’s Service with a Smile, which I’ve been dragging around in my bicycle pannier for a couple of months. It’s one of those later, rather absent-minded books in which Wodehouse starts to repeat himself: yet again there is a plot to steal Lord Emsworth’s pig, The Empress of Blandings. And I can’t believe that Lady Constance is really gettting married and written out of the books, but perhaps P. G. was sick of her.


Ellen said...

I bet it's that The Rector's Daughter is short that makes it a hit rather than Fidelities. I do like Susan Hill's non-formula books; she has one about an elderly woman who gains a new lease on life when she escapes her mean daughter to go to a nursing home. I mention this because it shows she's capable of seeing past cant (here about families)

I must've read a Mary Stewart when young but don't remember. The touch of the Cat attracts me because of my two cats :).


Frisbee said...

The Rector's Daughter is short! It's horribly uncozy, though, so some may be in for a surprise.
I did enjoy this one.

StuckInABook said...

I love that cover for PG Wodehouse! Captures the insane, wonderful silliness of his books. And I love the idea of it being carried around in a panier.

StuckInABook said...

Oh, and I picked up The Rector's Daughter for £1 in an Oxfam sale the other day - hurrah! I've read The Third Miss Symons, but not The R's D.

Mad Housewife said...

P. G. Wodehouse belongs in a pannier! I carry lightweight (physically as well as content-wise) books on my bicycle wherever I go. Then if I need to sit on a bench, or go into a coffeehouse, I have something to read. Wodehouse always makes sense, because it doesn't, so even if I haven't read it in a week....

The Rector's Daughter IS very good. What a coup to find it used.