Friday, June 16, 2017

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

21 Ramadhan, 1438


This time last year I vowed never to read another Patricia Cornwell novel after thankfully putting aside, though not before courageously completing, the dreadful Isle of Dogs. My feeling then was that it qualified as the worst novel I've ever read and, in retrospect, I think that was an accurate judgement. So it's an odd and unlikely coincidence that exactly one year later another Bloomsday should see me reading yet another Cornwell, this time the latest in the Scarpetta series, featuring the hotshot forensic pathologist (or whatever she is) from Virginia. Why have I reneged on my vow? you may wonder. Basically because Karen, recalling our joint affection for the first four or so novels in the Scarpetta series, made me a birthday present earlier this year of a rather fine and distinctly hefty paperback edition of Chaos, the novel in question and I felt obliged to read it at some point, setting it aside for the June vacation.

The good news is that it's nothing like as bad as Isle of Dogs; the bad news is that it suffers from exactly those faults that made me, and I suspect many other readers, fall out of love with Dr Scarpetta. It would be tiresome and ungentlemanly to list the faults in question but I will say that Ms Cornwell seems to have no sense at all of how comic it is to constantly insist on how deeply wonderful her central characters are - especially the tiresome Benton (Scarpetta's perfect husband) and even more tiresome Lucy (Scarpetta's perfect niece) - whilst failing to give them the slightest sense of realism, beyond letting us know what wonderful cars they drive, what fabulous food they eat, what wonderful clothes they wear and how good they look in them. The fact that these brilliantly accomplished characters generally behave with a level of emotional intelligence that would embarrass the average ten-year-old seems to escape their creator. Or, perhaps, this is all intended as subtly satirical?

Anyway, I decided that I couldn't let this Bloomsday go by without treating myself to a little bit of the greatest novel of the twentieth century. I chose to accompany Stephen, walking into eternity along Sandymount strand, and was glad I did. Never quite realised before the degree to which Chapter 3 of Ulysses echoes, reflects and sheds light on Stephen's glorious epiphany in Chapter 4 of A Portrait. Really must read the whole novel again (and again!)

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