I finished reading The Moonstone yesterday, I’ve been eating birthday cake and I’m in the middle of a massive pom-pom production session, so at least the the title was easy today.
Julia and Vicki have birthdays on successive days (though the years of birth are not quite so close) so we always have a surfeit of birthday cake at this time of year. I like the word surfeit. King John was said, in some reports, to have died of a surfeit of peaches at Newark in 1216 (they have been commemorating the 800th anniversary of his death recently), though it is more likely he died of dysentery. Henry I died of a surfeit of lampreys.
Lampreys have always seemed an unlikely thing to surfeit on, but it seems they were popular in the middle ages, and still are in some parts of the world. King John fined the City of Gloucester the equivalent of £250,000 for failing to provide his traditional lamprey pie one Christmas. In more recent times Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation pie was a lamprey pie provided by the RAF, and her Diamond Jubilee was marked by the gift of a lamprey pie from the City of Gloucester. Sadly, from a historical point of view, the latter pie was made with lampreys from the Great lakes in North America, as we don’t have many lampreys left, and they are now a protected species.
However, back to The Moonstone. It’s an irritating title because the Moonstone of the title is a yellow diamond, and not actually a moonstone. T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.” While some of this praise might be open to argument, it’s certainly long. Similarly, it introduces many classic elements of the modern detective novel, including a country house setting, red herrings, a quirky policeman and a twist at the end. It’s just a shame that the twist in the end is such a long way from the crime.
You may be getting the idea by now that I think it’s a little longer than it needs to be. It is. So are many classic novels. Moby Dick, for instance, could do with being reduced in length and a spot of energetic abridgement would definitely improve Don Quixote. I may have touched on this before, but the book, in my hand, would open with the body of Don Quixote lying on the library floor (probably beaten to death with a big book of heraldry), as the crumpled Detective Sergeant Sancho Panza looks for clues. I don’t know what my ending would be, but I do know it would be a lot closer to the beginning than Cervantes managed – about 300,000 words closer to the beginning in fact.
Yes, despite all setting to work in the middle of the day, we managed just these 16, well 15¾ really, as one is still to be cut and tied. That’s enough for one wreath. Of course, the process isn’t quite as linear as wrap, tie, trim.
It’s more in the region of wrap, stop and help someone, wrap, stop and help someone else, wrap, stop and try to rescue one, sweep away a pile of woolly scraps as the attempt fails, wrap, tie, swear, find the scissors, hack, look for a decent pair of scissors, stop and help someone, trim, try not to look too disappointed, start again…
As Julia pointed out, as I moaned my way through the afternoon, the best days of my life are like a pantomime villain.
“How’s that?” I asked, in my role as perennial straight man.
“They’re behind you!”