So I’ve been listening to Margery Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds the last week or so. It’s a 1938 murder mystery featuring Allingham’s gentleman sleuth Albert Campion. The plot is typical; I quote from Wikipedia (because I’m too lazy to write my own summary, shut up, I’m really busy, also, I just checked, Wikipedia just quotes from the Amazon book listing, so we’re all lazy, don’t you just want to stop giving me a hard time about this and find out what the book is about?):
Richard Portland-Smith disappeared without a trace three years ago – now Albert Campion has found his skeleton. The investigation of his suicide leads to Portland-Smith’s former fiancee, the actress Georgia Wells, and to a series of deaths, apparently caused by “the hand of fate”, but always in Georgia’s interest. But Campion’s involvement is more than just professional – this case involves his sister Valentine, Georgia’s best friend.
Margery Allingham is one of British Grande Dames of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. In her time, she was apparently as big as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers—but she’s aged even less well than Dorothy L. Sayers.
I do think Agatha Christie’s plots and structures have aged exceeding well. Her class consciousness—well, now we read it as anthropology or parody. Her anti-Semitism… I gotta say, with each passing year, when I come across a casual anti-Semitic slur in her work, it gets harder and harder to pass off as, “Well, that was the time.”
But back to Allingham. The writing is quite good. The plot, to be honest, absolutely ludicrous, convoluted and, in audiobook form, a bit difficult to follow. (The narrator’s voice though—yum. Francis Matthews reads the book as if he was Lord Peter Wimsey, and I understand why Sayers fell in love with her creation—except, of course, I’m conflating Sayers’ Wimsey not with Allingham’s Campion, but with the voice of Matthews and… I am a terrible, terrible book reviewer.
There are, in the book, numerous bon mots and pithy quotes. And some are still point on today.
And some make you want to vomit.
“Oh,” said Mr Campion furiously, “this is damned silly introspective rot. What you need, my girl, is a good cry or a nice rape–either, I should think.”
That’s the culture our mothers, grandmothers were born into kitten. Our fathers, grandfathers. Tell me, again, we don’t live in a rape culture and need to work to undo it…
And then, there’s this marriage proposal:
“Wives are out of fashion. I love you, Val. Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give your career, your time and your thought? That’s my proposition. It’s not a very good one, is it? … However, that is the offer. In return–and you probably won’t like this either–in return, mind you (I consider it an obligation), I should assume full responsibility for you. I would pay your bills to any amount which my income might afford. I would make all decisions which were not directly in your province, although on the other hand I would like to feel that I might discuss everything with you if I wanted to; but only because I wanted to, mind you; not as your right. And until I died you would be the only woman. You would be my care, my mate as in plumber, my possession if you like. If you wanted your own way in everything you’d have to cheat it out of me, not demand it. Our immediate trouble is serious, but not so serious as this. It means the other half of my life to me, but the whole of yours to you. Will you do it?”
She says yes, by the way, and is happier than she ever thought possible…
So, should you read it, or should you pass?
I dunno. It has good moments.
If Allingham was a modern author, I’d rip her to shreds.
As a creature of her time, I just sigh and try to enjoy the story… find that, generally, I fail. After the “good rape” comment, I’m out of the story, in personal trauma, and I can’t recover. When I come back to book—to that mellifluous voice—it takes me a while to forgive the author (and the character to whom the line belonged). And then I get whacked with another sexist line. Which I do take personally, because it’s day 60 of Quarantine and I’m frayed and fragile and oh-my-god, wives are out of fashion now and I never wanted to be one in the first place and did give up my independence and the enthusiasm which I should have been giving to my career, my time and my thought to marriage?
Quarantine crazy. Terrible book reviewer. Mellifluous narration.
Also, you gotta know your history, right?
So. Your call.
And her, you don’t have to spend any money to read it, cause you can read it for free at the Guttenberg project:
You can listen to the Audiobook at the Calgary Public Library for sure, and maybe at yours, or buy it—and most of Margery Allingham titles—from Audible. Kindle version also available at Amazon.
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