Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

Ah. I’m so happy to see that “Book Review” heading. It’s been too long! I hope to return to the “Books. School. Life” intent of this blog.

Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey, #12)Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Own on Kindle.

I finished Gaudy Night last night. It was wonderful. I had started and abandoned it a couple of times, but finally forced myself to keep on into the story. I wouldn’t say it was un-put-down-able, because it was heady and there were places that I found quite difficult and needed a break. I suspect that this is a book that’s best read multiple times for it’s many-faceted levels. I think I was trying to follow too many facets at once.

My biggest complaint was all of the names – too many names and sometimes two names for a single character (I never did quite get straight which Miss was the Dean, Bursar, or other office holder). (view spoiler).

I was pretty proud of myself that I figured out early on who was the villain of the piece, and to some extent the motive, although I didn’t piece together all of the elements to have actual proof.

What I really found fascinating, though, was the philosophical discussion of what makes a good marriage? Why would a man and woman tie themselves together in such a relationship? What does a good marriage look like? What can we learn from a bad marriage?

Sayers did a great job of returning her heroes to college where so many of us meet our spouses. By putting the story in Harriet’s perspective, she challenges the reader with her own doubts and feelings and the whole story turns on this investigation of hers. The arguments from all sides – learned, uneducated, wealthy, poor, old, and young, and the misconceptions of what marriage can be, force Harriet to concentrate on the thing which in turn helps to make her own ultimate decision. (view spoiler)

I would like to read it again as the mysteries are now taken out of the equation. I think there is at least another level – philosophical and pyschological – that Sayers is discussing in this book that I just never got to. I caught glimpses of it from time to time and they left me a little confused (thus the 4 stars). Wimsey’s dinner with the SCR is part of it for sure. I rarely felt I was on firm footing with conversations between Lord Peter and Harriet.

There’s enough British inter-war intrigue and allusions to British culture and Oxfordian culture that I don’t understand that I’m concerned about my comprehension of that other level. I spent a lot of time in this book Googling for books, quotes, and phrases I’d never heard of. I found a very helpful page where someone has done translation work for me.

I appreciated that Sayers brought up so many of the previous entries in the series as it had been some time since I’d read them. Those inclusions were helpful reminders and salient to this story.

I can see why this is the favorite of so many people. I’m quite certain that it would only improve upon re-reads, and that’s saying a lot because I liked it so much on this read and am ready to finish the series.

View all my reviews

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