Friday, June 2

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Review by Claire McManus

This was my reading group's book for May.  Our last few books have all been relatively recent books (within the last year or so), so we wanted to try something a bit more "classic."   We like books that are very civilized and urbane, which is how we ended up with this book, which was Caudwell's first.  And you don't really get much more civilized than a Venetian setting and a main character, Hilary Tamar, who is an academic.   Of course, as most of you know, the big question is whether Prof. Tamar is a man or a woman.  While we debated the question a bit, we came to the conclusion that (1) there is no answer, and (2) it doesn't matter.   This is exactly how the author wants it!
 
Most of us enjoyed the book quite a bit.  A word to the wise: You really must love flowery, and purposefully pretentious, language to appreciate this book.   The love for words (logophilia I think is the correct term) is really key to this reading experience.  If you like a more spare, straightforward narrative (which two of our members do – as you can tell from the books we've read for the club in the past), then this is NOT the book for you.
 
Something we all liked, though, was the true MYSTERY of the book.  There is a murder to be solved through clues and detective work, with a traditional sense of the narrative taking place, the sleuth doing his (or her) detective work, and the solution being revealed at the end of the book.  The mystery genre has been so expanded recently, that it is nice to read something that plays by the old rules.
 
We were divided on the characters. In the last few books we read, there were many likable characters.  In this one, there seems to be not much room for middle ground – you either love them or hate them.  They are either educated and witty, or idiotic and pretentious, depending on your perspective.  Still, the majority of us enjoyed spending time around them.  
 
Overall we liked this book and would probably read more of Caudwell.  We decided we'd have to wait a while to do that, though, because because the consensus was that a little of her goes a long way.   The book is like a very sweet truffle or bonbon; as delicious as it is, we need a little time to recover.  This got us talking about 'series' books with the same characters over and over again, which was a completely different discussion too intricate to put into writing!

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