Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pacing through the Years

Our perception of time -- more particularly how quickly we should be able to get what we want -- evolves. Wait to talk to a friend until we get home and use a phone that is wired into the wall? Ridiculous. We complain if it takes a few extra seconds for a mobile phone to place a call. None of this answering machine business. If we can't reach someone via phone it's time to text. Email is soooo last century.

Mysteries have changed, too. There's always a puzzle to solve, but the amateur sleuth of today rarely ponders clues during a walk in the garden or a train ride. Even the detectives of old operated at more of a Jessica Fletcher pace than a Jason Bourne race. When I think of a thriller a few decades old it's Alfred Hitchcock's work that comes to mind, and he kept us on the edge of our seats without the protagonist having to leave a room--or a chair.

My thoughts about pacing became more focused when the Women of Murder Book Club of Muncie read Wilkie Collins' Woman in White, which was issued in the mid-1860s. I groaned my way through the first 100 pages, sticking with it only because we were going to discuss it the next night. Then my husband read about it on a web site (something I never do when I start an unknown book). I don't know that this was exactly what he read, but here's the gist:

The Woman in White is credited with being the first of the sensation novels, and one of the finest examples of the genre. A young woman's husband defrauds her of her fortune, her identity and eventually her sanity. She is saved by her sister and a loyal man who loves her, and her two rescuers attempt to expose her husband. They meet a woman dressed all in white whose fate seems curiously intertwined with that of the young woman. In the tradition of the sensation novel, the story contravenes boundaries of class, identity and the private and public spheres.  (This is what Barnes and Noble said in promoting its issuance of a classic edition of the book.)

Without saying so, my husband's message was more or less, gee, maybe you should be quiet and keep reading.

I got quieter, and by the last 150 pages was reading to see how the book ended because I really cared. I cannot say it was easy to follow every clue, because some of them were buried in the lengthy internal dialogue of the time. However, patience is a trait I keep trying to develop, so The Woman in White was a lesson in its acquisition.

 It's still not a pace I care to read too often, but I came to want to learn more about the author enough that I took Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone out of our local library. T.S. Eliot describes it as, "The first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels."  It is long, but it grabbed me more at the beginning, so I will read it and try to be quiet about it.

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