Released: 2013 (First Published 1908)
The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson is a vintage murder mystery/soft crime fiction novel, which although perhaps not my most immediate go-to genre, I found to be, on the whole, a surprisingly good read. I’d already decided not to read anything about the author ahead of time, nor even the blurb on the cover; I wanted to jump into this story, unbiased and feet first.
Happily, I found the novel to be one which remained true to its own, rather niche, genre with relation to the nature of the narrative and the poetic language used throughout. The vocabulary had me at strange emotional cross roads – either lunging for the google search bar, scrabbling to define unintelligible words which may have died out in the late 18th century, or, finding myself (pathetically) in a strange state of alertness, ears pricked, desperate to detect any potential wrong doings, red herrings, semantics, or pathetic fallacy.
The authenticity of the novel comes, therefore, not solely from the almost hackneyed plotline (think roughly along the lines of J.B Priestley’s Inspector calls, with ‘dastardly characters’ and the obligatory doe eyed love interest) but rather from the language, the quaint way in which the characters react to one another, and the dialogue in which they engage.
Comfortably ensconced (it’s definitely rubbed off on me) on the sofa each night, I plunged into the shared world of Morris Assheton and Messrs Taynton and Mills; a society where men still reigned supreme, and afternoon tea, when one was a dapper, wealthy young gentleman, was a given. Chintz, cigars, brandy and jolly good strolls upon the downs all lend this tale a sweetly nostalgic setting, one which works, but of course, as the setting to a old fashioned murder mystery. Repressing the inner feminist was a struggle at first, but after a while, could not resist the hilarious, Poirot-esque indulgence of it all.
Morris Assheton is the youthful, wealthy, impetuous socialite. Mr Taynton and Mr Mills are the shrewd, elderly business partners, responsible for Morris’s financial affairs. After several, separate covert meetings between the three, the plot begins to pick up pace and develop. Historical secrets and revelations are explored and outed; with more often than not, disastrous consequences for our characters.
If we were to go back a few years and somehow, magically, found ourselves sat in an English class, given the thrilling task by the teacher of discussing the major ‘themes that really came through in this novel’, I’m pretty sure that in our jumble of crazy ideas, we’d find ‘honour’, ‘class division’ and ‘nostalgia’, somewhere. But be warned- reading this book may lead to impromptu outbursts of you humming Glen Miller’s ‘Little Brown Jug’ on the bus, or finding yourself wondering how easy it would actually be to rustle up a round of cucumber sandwiches.
Personally, I’m glad to have had the chance to read a book that I perhaps would never have bought myself. Reading it each evening allowed for a sweetly old fashioned, indulgent little escape; the perfect book-shaped accompaniment to a chilly winter evening in.
Apologies for not divulging any in-depth plot developments, for fear of giving the whole ‘whodunnit’ game away, and that my friend, would be called ‘cheating.’
Certainly one for those Bon Viveurs out there who crave a little bit of clue solving and port swilling in their evening read, in this cruel world of teenage vampire trilogies…