An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Monday, June 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

Damsel in Distress can be summed up in four words as, “Famous Five Grow Up.” Apart from the fact that there aren’t actually five of them and the growing up seems to happen in some respects but not others, those who fondly remember Blyton’s jolly adventures are likely to find Dunn’s novel right up their alley. I can’t say that I count myself in their number. Much as I would like to enter into the spirit of the thing, I can’t help harbouring suspicions of anyone who can use the word “spiffing” apparently without irony.

The plot could come straight from Blyton, if you add twenty years or so to the main characters’ ages. Phillip, Daisy’s likeable but somewhat dimwitted pal, falls for an equally likeable but equally dimwitted American heiress. The heiress is kidnapped in mysterious circumstances. Phillip calls his investigator friend Daisy for help and together with a further bunch of pals, they scour the surrounding countryside with the idea of rescuing the damsel in distress. It’s probably not giving too much away to suggest that the result is a daring rescue and just desserts all round.

You may at this point have some inkling of why I referred to growing up in some respects but not others. There are token nods to class issues, as well allusions to the fact that some of the characters may, at some point, but let’s not dwell on this for the sake of delicacy, be having sex. However, the sheer improbability of the plot is hard to overlook. Somehow, I was left with the impression that Dunn just adores these characters so much that she can think of nothing better than a thin device to have them all together having jolly good fun solving a mystery in the English countryside.

 I wonder if the fact that Dunn appears to be American has anything to do with her frothy view of English rural life – as Agatha Christie could tell you, there are plenty of dark secrets behind the bucolic idyll.  But comparing Daisy Dalrymple to Miss Marple is like comparing Edward Cullen to Dracula. If it came to a fight, I know who I’d be backing.

There’s nothing wrong with a light read, and perhaps it’s simply that Damsel in Distress is not my preferred form of escapism (for the record, I always preferred Mr Galliano’s Circus to the Famous Five and would have happily given up both for a new Swallows and Amazons novel). Others may find it more plausible, and the characters more likeable, and be less inclined to laugh at the (no doubt historically accurate) vocabulary (but seriously, are there people out there who can read “oh right ho, pip-pip” without at least suppressing a smile?). I might as well go with the theme and use a very English metaphor - it’s just not my cup of tea.

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