Starting with the best: What I Hate from A to Z by Roz Chast was a wonderful surprise as I didn’t know it existed. In her introduction she writes, ‘I am an anxious person. I come from a long line of anxious people.’ This must be one of the reasons I love her work so much. She is well known as a cartoonist for The New Yorker and I first heard of her in the late 1980s when a review in The Guardian made me think I’d like her book The Four Elements. I ordered it from our local bookshop (Ah, those pre-Amazon days) and loved it. In our family Roz Chast has almost the status of Posy Simmonds, in that any allusion is instantly recognised and will perfectly sum up the situation discussed. In this new book the things she hates include Getting Lost, Elevators and Spontaneous Human Combustion. Worrying about things that may never happen is what all Roz Chast’s characters do. I’d recommend The Four Elements over this book, simply because there’s more in it. I love the road designed for nervous drivers (no overtaking allowed, etc.) and the Children’s House of Horrors with ‘The Hall of Snowsuits’. If writing this could convert just one other person into a Roz Chast fan, I’d be happy.
I was also surprised (and pleased) to get Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James. I wanted to read it and knew everyone would be discussing it. On the whole I dislike all Jane Austen sequels, prequels and spin-offs apart from the TV series Lost in Austen, which I simply loved. Then, P D James. I’ve tended to think her writing works better on TV than on the page. The big question is whether the murder mystery would be interesting in itself if it didn’t involve already well-known characters and my answer to that is, ‘No’. It’s the fact that the murder takes place in the woods at Pemberley and that Wickham is the accused that keeps one’s interest. I quite liked the depiction of the married life of Darcy and Elizabeth (much better than in Pemberley) although I don’t like to see so much from Darcy’s point of view. Why is he still beating himself up over things which happened years ago? Characters from other novels (Sir Walter Eliot, Mrs Knightley) get brief if gratuitous mentions. No getting away from it; this is fanfic. I did enjoy the read but have to ask, ‘Why do it?’
The Agatha Raisin Companion is fun for those like me who enjoy the ridiculous books. M C Beaton’s introduction about how she first got published (tell lies) is interesting for any aspiring writer. There are now twenty two Agatha Raisin books and it’s easy to lose track of Agatha’s life and loves, which is where this book comes in handy. Chapter headings include ‘Agatha’s cats’, ‘Smoking’ and ‘The Sayings of Mrs Bloxby’. I love Mrs Bloxby, the shiningly good and wise vicar’s wife who can still surprise you. BTW I’m assured that my copy came from The Works, so no need to fork out the full price for it.
Those were my Christmas presents, folks and very nice, too.