Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers

This was a weird pick for my book club, largely because we all liked it. πŸ™‚ When we hopped on Skype to chat about it, we were all like, “Um, it’s good… and stuff… can we read some more Dorothy Sayers now?” Which is interesting, because it’s not really a straight-forward mystery novel like others of Sayer’s, it’s more of a treatise on marriage with a mystery thrown in. You’d think that three marriage-age women (with me married!) could have come up with something to say about that!

Of course, I had only just finished the book before the club, so I hadn’t had too much time to think about what I might want to say about the institution of marriage (not that I’ve got any ideas now!). I was still all, “I can’t believe that that was the murderer! I’m so terrible at guessing these things!” The mystery part goes as follows: Harriet Vane goes to a reunion at her college, and while there picks up some not-very-nice notes. She ignores them and goes home, but soon gets a call from the Dean or the Warden or someone from the college asking if Harriet might oh-so-kindly stop by and help them with this mystery, since she did so well solving that other mystery and also in writing all those mystery novels. The mystery is, of course, that a bunch of other people at the college are also getting these terrible notes, and also some manuscripts are being defaced, and it would all be such a scandal if the real police found out about it.

Harriet takes her sweet time (500 pages!) to figure it out, because there’s also a bunch of stuff in there about Peter Wimsey, an amateur detective who has been attempting to woo Harriet for a very long time, and his relationship with Harriet, as well as many, many long, tedious discussions about whether women should marry and if they do should they have jobs because they’re just going to flake out on their jobs every time their kids hiccup and if you feel you really just must marry someone should you pick someone you actually like or someone who is convenient for you and oh my goodness.

Sayers seems to side with those who choose to marry, seeing as how the women who argue against marriage read as more uppity than those who are for it, but she does throw in a woman for nearly every stereotype β€” the married and happy, the married and unhappy, the unmarried and happy, the unmarried and unhappy, the completely apathetic β€” and they all felt pretty real to me.

And of course I can’t argue against marriage, being married myself, but I can certainly see the downside to a woman who gets a wonderful education and then abandons it to motherhood. Of course, I am also in awe of people who can spend all day with multiple children and not want to strangle them, so it’s not like motherhood is all bonbons and soaps, right? So really, I am very unopinionated about this topic! Or possibly my opinion is “do whatever makes you happy.” Yes, that’s it. I like it.

I also like the ending of this mystery, but it’s a hard slog to get there β€” take it on at your own risk!

Rating: 8/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge: England, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Of Books and Bicycles

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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