Monday, October 31, 2005

Book #36: A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin

I read a few of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories a few months back for the first time since I was a child and found myself enjoying them as much for the view into the Victorian mindset about crime and police as the my somewhat nostalgic feelings about the actual stories. Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind is an attempt to fix Holmes in time and add a dose of emotional humanity to the character by setting it after WWII with a Holmes who is 93 and suffering from natural memory loss. This Holmes isn't trying to solve a case, and the only detective work we see is in a fifty-year-old case Holmes is writing about, one where he becomes enamored of a young woman who is forever beyond his reach. Instead, he spends time with his housekeeper's son, who is managing his apiary, and thinks about a recent trip to Japan.

It's not a bad novel, but neither is it a great one. Holmes hardly seems like Holmes, which Cullin explains by having him constantly describe the famous stories as fictions by John Watson, but it seems cheap to appropriate a major character of fiction only to modify that character under the guise of adding new dimensions. I don't know. I can't imagine this story being interesting (and it was interesting) if there were another elderly man at its heart - if, for instance, Cullin had written the exact same story but changed the name of the central character - but the story as it is is unsatisfactory, not because Holmes is sacred, but because he is a collection of behaviors, a characterization, not a real person. Maybe that's the point. There's a certain wit to having Holmes tell others that he never wore a deerstalker hat or smoked a pipe, but there's also a certain shorthand involved in asking readers to feel a certain way about the central character because of our pre-existing knowledge of his fictive life.

Anyway, I liked a great deal of the story, but disliked the blatant manipulation on display towards the end of the novel. If you've read it, I think you'll know exactly what I mean. I'm planning to read Michael Chabon's Holmes retread in the near future, too, so I'll have something to compare with this.


On another note, this is my 36th book of the year. With a mere 9 weeks left in 2005, I don't think I'm going to read another 14 books. However, I intend to continue reading and reporting on them and will perhaps continue this challenge into the new year.

Oh, I didn't finish George Pyle's book Raise Less Corn, More Hell before the library needed it back (and thus didn't write about it here), but I enjoyed the half of it I read.

No other personal news to report at the present. I added the blog Critical Culture to the list at right after reading the author's interesting take on a few books and movies over the last few weeks. New parents like myself should read Emlyn Lewis's blog. I knew the guy a million years ago when we were young, and back then he was one of the most intelligent people I had ever encountered in my brief experience. It's many years later and I've met a lot more people, but Emlyn is still about the smartest and most incisive person I know. I'm happy he's turning his smarts on being a dad, because it saves me a lot of soul-searching. Oh, and I'm adding a link to Ludic Log Leonard's LiveJournal Skullbucket, because that's where he's putting his best stuff these days. Go today to read his Halloween awesomeness, especially the best H.P. Lovecraft tribute/ripoff I've witnessed.


Janet Ambers 3:34 AM, November 16, 2005  

Actually, I thought Cullin's novel was pretty amazing. The details were more true to the actual Doyle stories than most every pastiche written since 1938. And while it might not be understood by uninformed readers, the mention in the book of Holmes never having smoked the big pipe or wearing the deerstalker are actually true. The writer clearly did his homework, although in the face of the non-Doyle mutations of Sherlock that have since become the norm, I imagine that that won't matter much. A great book, though, in my opinion.

Hayden Childs 12:45 PM, November 18, 2005  

It's also clear that I am such an uninformed reader.

Jan the Man 3:05 PM, December 05, 2005  

Hi Hayden, nice blog... enjoyed reading your material about Holmes and teh comments. My name is Jan Manzer and I'm new to blogging. Would appreciate you checking out my site at Jan Manzer dot com

Jan the Man 3:49 PM, December 05, 2005  

Hi Hayden, nice blog... enjoyed reading your material about Holmes and teh comments. My name is Jan Manzer and I'm new to blogging. Would appreciate you checking out my site at Jan Manzer dot com

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