Book Report #1

When last we met you had a chicken in the oven.  For the sake of argument, I will assume you are no longer sitting at the kitchen table, wondering what to read while your chicken cooks.  However, now you will have an idea of a couple of things to get at the library (or used on Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks).

Queen Lucia by E. F. Benson is one of my favorite books.  Written in about 1920, it is the first in a series of seven short novels, and tells the story of Riseholme, a small English village.  Riseholme is populated by such silly people.  They are pretentious, snobbish, and ignorant.  On top of it, they are all back-stabbers.  But oh my goodness, what fun this book is.  The action in Queen Lucia surrounds an Indian guru who comes to the village.  All are eager to befriend and commandeer the yogi in question, and, of course, things go terribly wrong.

The main character is, not surprisingly, Lucia, who feels she is the most important person in the village, the one who sets the styles and the attitudes of her “underlings.”  As Phoebe-Lou [hey, I want to be named Phoebe-Lou!] Adams of The Atlantic said, “Nothing that Lucia and her enemy Miss Mapp [who is introduced later in the series] did was ever of the slightest importance, but they did it with Napoleonic strategy, Attilan ferocity, and Satanic motive.”  And the Los Angeles Daily News called it “charmingly malicious.”

It is also laugh-out-loud funny.  Lucia is really Emmeline Lucas.  As a testament to her pretension, she and her husband pretend to be able to speak Italian.  They sprinkle their speech with caro mios , and molto benes.   I’m sure you can imagine the difficulties that arise when a visitor who really can speak Italian comes to the village.  Her pretensions are numerous—she  plays the piano (always by the open window), but the only thing she can play is the first movement of Moonlight Sonata (after the performance of which she always gives a deep sigh, to underscore how moved she is by the music).  She puts on tableaux (reenactments of famous moments in history) that are wildly boring, but the villagers are required to attend or suffer her wrath (or, perhaps worse, become the subject of her gossip).  Lucia also talks baby-talk to Georgie, her slightly frightened, but still (mostly) loyal, friend who is, ahem, a confirmed bachelor who is sensitive to dogs and his lack of height, and who is the source of much unintentional hilarity.

This is a nice, quick read (less than 200 pages) that will make you laugh.  Please don’t be put off by the fact that these are not very nice people.  If it makes you feel better, they nearly always receive a comeuppance, although that comeuppance usually makes you feel a bit sorry for them (no mean feat on the part of E. F. Benson!).  I think any of us can appreciate the humor in the gossipy machinations of some people (which still go on today, enhanced by electronic communication), whether or not you happen to live in a small English village.  Enjoy!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. marollison
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 20:17:14

    My book list is really going to take off now! Keep ’em comin’!


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