Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mrs Ames

Mrs Ames, by E. F. Benson

I haven't found a good blurb for this novel, and I'm too lazy to write one of my own.  If you've read Besnon's Lucia books, you will be familiar with the style of his humor.  (Apparently he also wrote other sorts of things, including ghost stories, which I plan to try sometime.)

Mrs Ames bears many similarities to the Lucia novels-- especially early in the book-- but by the end, Benson has taken the story in a much different direction.  While still never weighty, it deals with weightier subjects-- such as coming to terms with the approach of middle age, the dissatisfaction of an unfulfilling lifestyle, the Suffragette political movement, marital problems, and even infidelity. These subjects are at times dealt with humorously, but there are also fairly frequent more serious or even slightly sentimental treatments of characters... and it's not quite what you expect from Benson if you only know him from Lucia

All in all, it's an interesting read-- amusing, but also somewhat sad.  I prefer the Lucia books, personally, and know I'll return to them for re-reading, eventually.  As far as Mrs Ames is concerned... I'm still not sure.  Maybe there's more depth here, but Lucia is cozier.

(A Few) More Specific Notes, Observations, Etc.:

--There's a reference to one of the characters owning a "light alpaca jacket which he always wore when the weather was really hot".  That seems odd to me.  Maybe a thin jacket of alpaca really is cool and comfortable, but it sounds awfully hot and stuffy.  Even for a day that is hot merely by English standards!

--It is clear that when (and where) this book is set, doctors are considered only scarcely fit to join one's social circle.  It's always funny when that attitude crops up in a book, given how the exact opposite is true now (or in the recent past), when everyone supposedly oohs and ahhs over the prospect of having a doctor in the family.

--The "skin food" just grosses me out.  I know it's just lotion, but the name-- skin food.  *shudder*  It's oddly horrifying to think of skin eating something... like the Blob.

--Mrs. Ames is more sympathetic than Lucia-- possibly because she is described as being less attractive... and less ambitious.

--On the other hand, I find myself very low on patience with Major Ames or Mrs. Evans.  I don't like either of them at all, actually.

--I always feel that "temerity" should mean the exact opposite of what it actually does mean, probably because is reminds me of "timidity".

--Someone in the book says that "there were a quantity of bathing-machines", whereupon I wondered what a bathing-machine was, exactly.   It seems that it's basically a small wooden changing room that could be wheeled right out into the water so that a person could go into the ocean without being seen (by quite as many people, at least) in his/her bathing suit.  (g)

--"Major Ames said that which is written 'Pshaw.'"  And then I laughed appreciatively.  Yes, "pshaw" is such a weird, weird word.  I think the first time I saw it was in a Little House book...

--One thing I noticed in this book (and that I think I recall from the Lucia books as well) is how late these characters are gadding about, considering that this is a sleepy English village (in the early 1900s)-- not London.  One character is described as staying at his local men's club until half-past eleven at night.  I wonder if those late hours are accurate.

--I had to look up "Roman pearls" to see what they were, though it was obvious they were some sort of fake pearls.

--I had read through the entire multi-Cleopatra scenario before remembered that I, too, once dressed up as Cleopatra-- in eighth grade, for Halloween.  (We were allowed to come to school in costumes that year.  That was the same day I checked out Anne of Green Gables-- to read for the first time-- from the school library, incidentally...)

--Benson's treatment of Harry Ames and his poetry club is funny, but maybe more pointed than his approach toward his older characters.  It feels like he's more sympathetic toward middle age than youth... and in some ways, I can't blame him.

--"Peptonized"-- Even Kindle's built-in dictionary was stumped by that one.

--"Ideas are dangerous things, and should be kept behind a fireguard, for fear that the children, of whom this world largely consists, should burn their fingers, thinking that these bright, sparkling toys are to be played with."

--Ugh.  Major Ames and that whole "en garçon" business.  Ugh.  (Major Ames, I think I hate you, and I don't remember actively hating any character in the Lucia books.)

--...It's like what might happen if you took the Lucia books and gradually tried to make them completely realistic, with an odd seriousness replacing the quirky, humorous minutiae.