Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: Busman's Honeymoon (1936)

I have had a curious-disinterest-coupled-with-my-need-tofinish-series in my relationship with the Lord Peter Wimsey series. The earlier books often seem absurd, Lord Wimsey apparently becoming more and more talented as years pass by. Even the breath of freshness which is Harriet Vane cannot save the fact that Sayers often spends dozens of pages in explaining incredibly complicated clues I am certain more than half of her audience happily skips to go to the result. Sayers was brilliant, but a gripping mystery writer she was not.

It took the last Wimsey book for me to realize where the charm of her writing lies. It never lies in her mysteries. Or even in her hero. It is again, as dear old Poirot calls it, the human factor, which makes this book so beautiful. The mystery barely exists for half the book. The book is primarily about Harriet and Peter, learning what it means to married and the support the other requires. Their love, blooming in Latin and French through four books, finds a passionate outpouring in this book the author could only have written to add her own contribution to intelligent love stories. The fact that there is a murdered man is purely incidental.

Sayers writes a tale of a couple new to love and togetherness, both discovering the meaning of marriage and the confusion it brings upon them. The first hundred pages are just details of their weddings and conversations, mostly epistolary in nature. We learn a lot about the Wimsey family, more than perhaps the previous books let us. We also learn what it is like to spout French while lovemaking. It is almost mandatory to have google translate around when you read this book, there is an incredible amount of the hot and heavy stuff disguised in European languages. Even the superintendent appears to have a thorough classical education which would make the modern reader feel incredibly ill-read and ignorant.

What makes this book far superior though is the end. The murderer is caught about three-fourths in the book and we expect a happy ending. But Wimsey is the man torn by a sense of duty and extreme guilt over sending a man to his death, no matter how guilty or unremorseful. It is then do we see the strength of the marriage, the need the couple has of each other, and the hope of a happy ending for a new couple with old, old pains. This book could serve as a treatise on a mature marriage, with couples battling out their individual insecurities and growing confusions in their mutual aim to remain united and happy. The last chapter, an alternatively brooding and emotional Peter and his wife, calmly supporting him, the book lives in that moment, growing from all the past pages of mutual understandings and experiences.

I can not recommend this book less happily. As a mystery genre, it lacks a lot, most often a mystery itself. But as a book on a couple discovering each other, it remains one of the best written works out there.

Rating: Fantastique!

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