Friday, May 04, 2007


Lost in The Lymond Chronicles

The last ten days have been something of a blur, because I spent most of them living in the sixteenth century, courtesy of Dorothy Dunnett. A few years ago I read her six-book series The Lymond Chronicles (reprinted in trade paperback by Vintage), and since Ryan was away for work most of last week, I ended up moping around the house until I picked them up again and found I'd forgotten enough of them to re-read the whole thing. They are seriously time-consuming, and I ended up staying up until midnight on several evenings, absolutely riveted to the pages. Each volume is five hundred pages or so, and the prose is dense, encrusted with gems, rich with allusions and wordplay, obscure classical and medieval and renaissance literary references, untranslated quotations in Latin, French, Italian, etc. The books have a plot that just won't quit, with action in Scotland, France, Malta, Istanbul, Moscow, England, and all points between. I mean, talk about page-turners, wow. These are books to wallow in, to luxuriate in. I wish I really could read them again for the first time, especially the final volume, because the suspense lasts literally until the final few pages. I won't give anything away, plot-wise, except to say that Lymond really has to be one of the great fictional heroes in literature - a real swashbuckling everyman, a proto-Elizabethan scholar-warrior-scalawag you quickly come to love. Dunnett brings that era alive through him and his satellites and family, and shows readers it's a dangerous, glittering world worth living in. The only thing comparable to this series for sheer complexity might be The Name of the Rose, but Lymond in my mind is much better, because it's more action/romance/intrigue/history. More MORE. So, it took me ten days to read the whole series, and that's reading a good five or six hours a day, at least. Basically I went on a bender, a book bender. Now I'm in recovery. I don't know what to pick up next. Dunnett is a hard act to follow. I might need some real renaissance literature, like the Decameron or something, I don't know. Luckily, this break in the reading program comes just in time for another little trip south - Ryan goes to Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday, again for work, but this time I'm going, too, for a mini-vacation.

Plans include: a visit to the Edward Hopper exhibit opening this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, visits to the Gardner Museum, the Athenaeum, possibly the Fogg at Harvard, a glance in at the Houghton and Widener Libraries, and for bookshops, let's see... the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, the Harvard Book Store, Raven Used Books, Rodney's, maybe the Bryn Mawr Book Store, maybe McIntyre and Moore. I also may go visit my grandmother's grave - she's buried at Mount Auburn. Whew. That sounds like a lot to do in four days, we'll see how it goes. I've got good walking shoes, so I should survive. I may have to ask the bookshops to ship my books home, though, because we'll be driving a company car, or should I say Ryan will be driving a company car. No driving for me, not in Boston, not with someone else's car. I'll be on the T and on foot and in a cab if I get stuck somewhere and it's getting late. The only things I'll be carrying will be my wallet and a tiny Moleskine notebook and my fountain pen. Possibly a chapstick (nonpetroleum, organic) and a handkerchief. But no way will be I lugging bags of books all over town. This time (the voice of experience talking - it's happened before, I assure you). I'll be away until Thursday and will report back at the end of next week.

Next time I read the Dorothy Dunnett books, by the way, I will have bought the two available companions to read alongside the novels. The companions have maps, translations, footnotes, and explanations of all the obscure references. But I think the third reading will be a few years from now. The books need to cure for a while, until then. In the meantime, there's always her House of Niccolo series set in fifteenth-century Venice. Eight books long. Haven't read any of it yet. Am simultaneously in a state of anticipation and dread. Dear oh dear. What's a booklover to do.

Dorothy Dunnett is, in my humble opinion, the greatest fiction writer of the 20th century. What an awesome way to spend a week!
Thanks for commenting, Laurie - I can't say she's my favorite - I might have to argue for Mark Helprin and Laurie Colwin and Patrick O'Brian - but boy oh boy she does deliver the goods.
I don't really know that author.
But I love this new author who
wrote Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly.

A friend in England said her places and locations are so accurate and many streets are current. It is all about large tea manufacturers and work mills. Unfortunately she chose
a different publishing house for her second novel, and its only out in England this year.
Hi sparrow - glad you found me again! Thanks for the recommendation, I'll add it to my ever-growing lists.
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