Right now, I want and need books with no more than five major characters. I want wide margins and print that isn't very small. A novel that's not too long would also be nice; when experiencing that fatal combination of fatigue, reader's block and blogger's block, the more books that can be sped through the better. I want either irresistible writing (like what I'm reading now - The Exploded View) or a damned fine plot, but preferably both, obviously. If you can recommend books that fit some or all of these parameters and aren't penned by Banana Yoshimoto, I would be grateful.
My first such book of the summer was the eighth Brother Cadfael medieval murder mystery, The Devil's Novice. There are 20+ novels in this series but I'm already beginning to feel nervous about running out; I've never come across a set of books so reliable. Yes, I know that Peters/Pargeter wrote many more books not in this series, but the medievalism forms a great deal of the attraction for me. It's crazy, but even though Cadfael's compatriots are hardly more spiritually transcendent than your average bear, reading these books make the cloistered life seem shockingly appealing to me. It's really quite disturbing, but in a very pleasant and homey way.
But as to The Devil's Novice specifically, this novel tells the story of a young man entered into Cadfael's monastery quite abruptly and under cover of darkness one night by a father who refuses to kiss him when they part. It soon comes out that, not coincidentally at all, another young man (Peter Clemence) taking a message to some northern landlords from a bishop working on restoring peace to the country, has gone missing from the young man and his father's home.
The book focuses on young Meriet Aspey's ill-fated attempts to adapt himself to a cloistered life when he clearly doesn't belong there, and Cadfael and sheriff Hugh Beringar's attempts first to find the emissary and then to discover his murderer once his body has been found. It took me quite awhile to begin to even suspect who the murderer turned out to be, which is good. Much more satisfying, however, was Peters' close pairing of this local murder with the entire country's precarious political situation - the novel is set in 1140, during a bitter battle between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the throne. That's all I'll say, for I wouldn't want to spoil things too much for anyone.
As always, Peters soothed and wooed me with her excellent story-telling; The Devil's Novice really helped stave off an aggressive case of reading block which seemed on the verge of engulfing me. It's not completely at bay yet either. Dramatic language, yes, but reading to me is absolutely crucial to my happiness. I could give up many pleasures, pastimes, and forms of mental engagement but it would be too awful to contemplate not reading. And yet, I am somehow, at least once a year, afflicted with a twitchy and uncomfortable inability to find almost anything I want to read, never mind having the ability to concentrate. Do any of you suffer from reader's block or the threat thereof? If so, how do you overcome it?
And to confirm your sense of me as a drama queen, here's a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Yes, I am comparing books to fickle and coy lovers, damn them.
"They Flee from Me", Thomas Wyatt
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?
It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.