Archive for June, 2017

June 24, 2017

Bulletpoints: The Mummy

I’d like to say I watched The Mummy so that you (the reader) didn’t have to, but judging by the near empty theatre the day we went to see it, I’m not sure I’ve saved anyone anything. Nor am I saying anything original in telling you that it’s a bad film, given that even everyone who’s in it seems aware of this. Russell Crowe is having the time of his life. Tom Cruise looks like he can’t believe these words are emerging from his face. Annabelle Wallis looks apologetic, as if she knows that she had a hand in the two terrible big budget films I’ve watched this summer. (It’s impossible to tell how Sofia Boutella, in the title role, feels about the movie or her own performance; the mummy spends much of the film resurrecting her own face.)

In any case, some thoughts:

 

  • I’ve been lazy about paying attention to this film’s marketing, but must assume that someone somewhere has explicitly said it’s a reboot of both the Karloff and Brendan Fraser films (I think the Dark Universe is meant to be a set of loose film reboots, but still). Because all of the commentary around the Tom Cruise Mummy seems to focus on those films to the exclusion of all else–as if the 1930s had been the start of the mummy story rather than a temporary revival. It’s not, particularly, because of a similarity in plot–and even those two films are only broadly similar in their choice of Imhotep as Mummy.

 

  • This looks (oh no) like a grumpy “why don’t kids these days read books” complaint, but I promise it’s mostly that mummy fiction comes from and is rooted in a really specific context (here I am, discussing this at some length), so that most later iterations of the genre feel like they’re missing some key part. Plus, that context is imperial Europe, and Hollywood can only (barely) invoke imperial America.

 

  • The Mummy deals with this by shifting some of the action to modern day Iraq (with frequent reminders that we’re in Mesopotamia, The Cradle of Civilisation), thus giving Tom Cruise an excuse to be there. The archaeologist points out that an Egyptian tomb in Mesopotamia is weird and probably important, but beyond that acknowledgement of geography the viewer is left to assume that the ancient Egyptians simply wanted to get this body as far away from them as possible. There’s a sort of collapsing of space here that feels familiar from imperial literature–Egypt is Egypt, obviously, it’s where the mummies and the pyramids etc are, but it’s also all of the East, and to some extent interchangeable with other parts of that larger orientalist whole.

 

  • And yet the film must still shift its action to England–it’s England, not America, that has a history with Egypt; English people’s habit of carrying home Eastern artifacts is what shifts the action to these shores.

 

  • There’s something going on with artifacts and what one does with them. The main action of The Mummy opens with Nick from New Girl and Tom Cruise (confusingly called Nick here), US soldiers and looters in Iraq, following a map to “Haram,” which they’ve chosen to interpret as “treasure, probably”. “Haram” (I know) turns out to be in the vicinity of a village that has been overrun with “insurgents”–you can tell they’re the bad sort of native by the fact that they’re destroying some ancient Mesopotamian statuary. Luckily our heroes, loveable rogues, get in and cause some explosions, one of which reveals the giant underground chamber in which Ahmanet has been contained. Nick and Nick-from-New-Girl’s plunder is clearly bad and shows no respect for the objects or their history–the archaeologist, Jenny Halsey, shows a desire to preserve them. Meanwhile, we’re reminded that the people with whom the US army is at war are hostile to their own history and want to wipe it out. Halsey’s removal of historical artefacts is thus contrasted both with the bad natives and (cleverly) the bad invaders–anxiously justifying itself by setting up these terrible alternatives. It’s all a bit reminiscent of your friend who isn’t racist and knows the British empire did bad things, but isn’t it great that the British Museum exists? And wouldn’t these artefacts be damaged if they weren’t there? (Sometimes your friend will even point out how ironic it is that a lot of the situations from which these important bits of heritage are being saved are in part due to the countries doing the saving. [It's like raaaaain ....])

 

  • Mummy fiction does this all the time. This is a genre based in the violation of human bodies, and because of this it not only works as a sort of distillation of the imperial project (empire is built on turning [black and brown] bodies into [consumable] objects), but also the awareness of that violation haunts the genre and it needs to constantly push back against it. And so there will always be a reason, completely plausible in-text, why this violation was necessary, even admirable.

 

  • It’s interesting, then, that the film so thoroughly sidesteps questions of empire. The important connection between Egyptian and British history, the reason Ahmanet comes to Britain, the source of our information about this ancient backstory is … the Crusades. I don’t wish to generalise (#notallCrusaders) but of the various encounters between Britain and Egypt, is this really the one most likely to have involved the uncovering and preservation of important historical and archaeological secrets about Egypt’s supernatural past? Later, we discover that Russell Crowe’s secret lair (of which more later) is a part of the Natural History Museum–not the British Museum, as this piece, for example, claims. You can (I’m probably going to) argue that the NHM is as much a product of empire as the BM; you can probably argue (I’m not going to) that the Crusades are as relevant or more so to British imperial history in 2017 than the entire nineteenth century. But it seems to me that, beyond those misleading opening sections (surely a movie about Americans being gross in Iraq is going to make a political point?) the film goes out of its way to avoid being visibly about empire. (It still is, of course. It’s a mummy story.)

 

  • The refusal to discuss the Victorians is even more pointed when we’re introduced to Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll, the Nick Fury of this Dark Universe (our world, but all our classic supernatural adventure stuff is real, like a crap League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Jekyll’s organisation Prodigium is clearly set up as a sort of framing narrative for this series of films; from the specimen jars present in his labs, we know we’re going to be dealing with Vampires and their ilk in coming installments.I find myself wondering about the choice to go with specimens rather than objects (the end credits do show various Egyptian artefacts, alongside what appear to be their catalogue numbers in a [the British?] museum); mummies and vampires as natural phenomena in no way connected with any sort of cultural grounding.

 

  • The major thing that attracted me to this film was the fact that the Mummy is female. Colonial space is always gendered (oh my america) anyway; one of my favourite terrible facts about the 19th century is the existence of mummy-unwrapping parties where groups of people would get together to strip a human corpse. There’s a full appreciation of the erotic potential of veiling and unveiling inherent in both the figure of the mummy itself and more generally popular depictions of sexy Eastern women (all those veils!). It’s not surprising, then, that early mummy fiction generally depicts the mummy as a woman. (Another reason this film is better read in the context of the books.) The film buys into this completely in its early depictions of Ahmanet–our visions of her are mediated through Nick’s daydreams/trances so they’re already fragmented; teasing glimpses of trailing strips of white fabric with beautiful limbs being revealed and then concealed.

 

  • (Here’s William Prime, in 1857, fantasising about tomb robbers violating a mummy: “What fingers tore the coverings from her delicate arms! What rude hands were around her neck, that was once white and beautiful! What sacreligious wretches wrested the jeweled amulet from its holy place between those breasts,once white and heaving full of love and life, and bared her limbs to the winds, and cast them out on the desert sand!” [From here, some more context here. It’s worth noting that Prime’s fantasy violated dead woman is also white and blonde.])

 

  • 19th Century mummies are women because the East is just mysterious and feminine boutella mummy chainsand because the Victorians like to turn their anxieties into something they can also want to fuck, but perhaps most importantly because they’re violable. In these books about mysterious undead women with supernatural power, and later in films about male mummies risen from the grave to be reunited with their true loves, it’s other women who are possessed or kidnapped or expected to play host to the reincarnated spirit. It’s unusual to see a plot in which the male hero’s mind is the one taken over; and Ahmanet’s attempts to resurrect Seth in Nick’s body require him to be held down while she straddles him and so are presented to us as a sort of sexual assault.  Being terrible, the movie can’t really commit to this disorientation–we’re in Nick’s head throughout so that his possession appears more a minor annoyance than anything, and he’s still The Hero, while Ahmanet is the one presented to us as an aesthetic/sexual object. At one point, when she has been captured, she’s chained into a submissive position and tortured by having mercury pumped into her body while the characters (and the camera, and so us) hang around watching her.

 

  • Ahmanet is a brown woman, and that matters not just because of the specific ways in which she’s sexualised/sexually voracious/grotesque (there’s literal bits of missing skin on her for much of the film), but in the ways she’s contrasted with the beautiful white, blonde woman (the archaeologist, Halsey, who quickly becomes “Jenny”). Even while being possessed by an evil Egyptian death god (really, though) Nick recognises which woman deserves his allegiance and which deserves to be thrown about the room. White womanhood remains precious beyond the grave.

 

  • There was a brief, and wonderful moment when I genuinely believed that Nick’s heroic trajectory would involve accepting the necessity of his own death–it seemed a fittingly current plot development. He does accept the possibility of dying … and then survives. The spirit of Set has now entered into Nick, who the surviving members of Prodigium discuss as a potential ally. Should the franchise survive long enough for this to happen, this “Egyptian” god will therefore be represented by a white American man. Meanwhile, Marwan Kenzari gets to be unnamed attractive Prodigium employee (imdb tells me his character’s name is “Malik”) and Courtney B. Vance plays the only named black character (unless we count Ahmanet herself) and the first named character to die.

 

  • A brief note on the film as horror: The Mummy has decided to interpret the mummy genre as a subset of zombie horror, which is fair enough, since both involve reanimated corpses. Ahmanet calls up several dead bodies to do her bidding, from ordinary people who appear to have been buried under London to the crypt of Crusaders whose discovery opens the film. (It’s not clear to me if she can only do this to human bodies–she leaves a perfectly good woolly mammoth in the museum.) This leads to a scene in which Cruise’s Nick is swimming slowly through a submerged crypt, followed by a bunch of reanimated Crusaders, still in chainmail, and swimming very slowly also. It’s almost as if the film is rebelling against the recent trend of fast-moving zombies by slowing down the zombie chase entirely. It’s hilarious. Meanwhile, Nick is hallucinating/being haunted by a dead Nick-from-New-Girl. Other horror tropes–scary animals in swarms (spiders, ants, crows) appear to be working with or controlled by Ahmanet; though the cows in the field adjoining the scene of her resurrection seem unconcerned. The film does an excellent Final Girl scene–Jenny, having done literally nothing to ensure her survival, is seen alone, shivering, alive and holding a knife.

 

  • And then there’s the film’s own final scene, which I’m not sure what to make of. Obeying the compulsion to dress a bit like a mummy (Ahmanet didn’t seem to have time to get solid clothes, though she’d clearly youtubed some hair tutorials), Nick has wrapped some strips of cloth around his hands, resurrected his best friend, and … travelled to Egypt to have “adventures”. The last thing we see are these two American men, on horseback, kicking up a sandstorm, and riding towards some pyramids, as if someone had watched Lawrence of Arabia and understood that it was good but not why. I doubt the film is meant to invoke all that this image implies, but even the commitment to the image is rather telling.
June 22, 2017

Jared Shurin (ed), The Book of the Dead

From three years ago, a slightly-edited review of an anthology of original mummy fiction. Published in Strange Horizons, and brought to you by my shady Victorianist past. I was reminded of this review’s existence because of the recent film The Mummy, starring Sofia Boutella (as the Mummy) and Tom Cruise. (Thoughts on that are forthcoming, probably, but please know that it is terrible.)

 

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The mummy story emerges from a nineteenth century that is saturated with Egyptomania. Which is to say, of course, that it emerges very specifically from imperial Europe’s troubled history with Egypt. “[S]ince this accursed Egyptian style came into fashion . . . my eldest boy rides on a sphinx instead of a rocking-horse, my youngest has a papboat in the shape of a crocodile, and my husband has built a watercloset in the shape of a pyramid and has his shirts marked with a lotus,” John J. Johnston quotes from an 1805 letter to the London Morning Chronicle in his introduction to Unearthed, an anthology of classic mummy stories. Robert Southey complained in 1807 that “everything must now be Egyptian, the ladies wear crocodile ornaments, and you sit upon a Sphinx in a room hung round with mummies.” Europe was never exactly unaware of Egypt, but Napoleon’s invasion of the country in 1798 opened it up for European scrutiny in ways that it never had been before. Egyptology as a discipline begins with the Description de l’Égypte; nineteenth century knowledge about Egypt, whether fact or fiction, was produced in the context of, and in the service of, empire. (This is the basic premise of Edward Said’s Orientalism.)

Which raises a question about how these two books—The Book of the Dead, an anthology of original mummy stories, and its companion volume, Unearthed, both edited by Jared Shurin—present themselves, and how they are packaged. The Book of the Dead is dedicated to Amelia B. Edwards, feminist, writer, women’s suffragist, and founder of the Egypt Exploration Society. Both volumes contain introductions by a member of the EES, and both end with an advertisement for it. This shouldn’t be a surprise—Jurassic London have clearly stated that these books are published in partnership with the society. But in a post-Orientalism (not, alas, post-orientalism) world, it’s hard to stomach this uncritical celebration of Europeans producing knowledge about Egypt in light of how that knowledge was, and in some ways still is, put to use. It’s probably worth noting at this point that as far as I can tell, all the writers in The Book of the Dead are British or American.

Fortunately, many of the best stories in the collection take as their impetus the complex, uncomfortable historical relationship between the west and Egypt. One of these is Adam Roberts’s “Tollund,” which is certainly aware of the power inherent in the creation of knowledge, of who gets to produce it and who has it produced about them. “Tollund” is a reversal of our expectations of a mummy story; not only is the preserved body in question a bog body in Jutland but the scientists who come to study it and have a terrible adventure in the process are named Hussein, Suyuti, el-Akkad, and el-Kafir el-Sheikh. It’s not always subtle; the phrase “occidental exoticism” appears and the characters spend a lot of time sitting around discussing the inferiority of these barbaric Northerners. It doesn’t need to be; a number of the stories in the collection critically examine the roots of the genre, but this blatant overturning of it delighted me.

Other stories in the collection deal with the transport of Egyptian artefacts to museums across the western world. Louis Greenberg’s “Akhenaten Goes to Paris” has its title character travel to France to visit a father who is currently on display in a museum. Paul Cornell’s Rameses I wakes up in a museum in Canada. Den Patrick’s “All is Dust” has canopic jars stolen . . . from the British Museum. The turning of bodies into objects and the attendant undercurrent of discomfort that comes with this has been a part of the mummy tradition since its inception; fittingly, Unearthed begins with Theophile Gaultier’s 1840 short story “The Mummy’s Foot,” which has a young man buy a disembodied foot to use as a paperweight. One of mummy fiction’s most uncomfortable moments comes in Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, when the Egyptologist Professor Trelawney unwraps the perfectly-preserved body of the Egyptian Queen Tera. The unrolling of a mummy for an audience was a popular spectacle in the mid-nineteenth century, and once it is done Trelawney and his associates stand gloating over Tera’s beautiful naked body. But also in the room is Trelawney’s daughter Margaret, who is for supernatural reasons the physical double of Tera. As long as Margaret is present, it is impossible to entirely think of Tera as an object—and so the sense of violation is brought uncomfortably home.

In The Book of the Dead, Louis Greenberg’s Akhenaten moves constantly between the states of person and object—unable to bluff his way through airport security as a living person he begins the story by traveling to Paris as cargo; once there he is able to hide in a museum by pretending to be one of the exhibits. In his perorations about Paris (a city he quite likes) in the guise of a living being Akhenaten is subject to multiple instances of casual racism and suggestions that he go back to where he came from—including in the Place de la Concorde, which has at its centre the Luxor Obelisk. As fond as Akhenaten is of the modern world, it’s clear that he is more welcome in Paris when he is an artifact than when he is a person.

If the museums preserve mummies as objects, we’re also reminded that they can be destroyed, and even consumed. As Johnston reminds us in his introduction, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans even ingested powdered mummy as a form of medicine. Roger Luckhurst’s “The Thing of Wrath” takes for its inspiration stories of rags from mummies being imported from Egypt to the USA in order to make paper for newspapers. Jenni Hill’s “The Cats of Beni Hasan” is based on the use of mummified cats (tons of them were shipped to England in the nineteenth century) as fertilizer.

Two stories in the collection deal with the physical consumption of mummies. “All is Dust” has a group of old friends accidentally snort some dead mummy along with cocaine—the only one it affects is the Egyptian character who turns into a vengeful murderer. In Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Bit-U-Men,” a reanimated mellified man (or not a man—its gender is ambiguous throughout) allows for its body to be used in the production of American confectionery. This story, which later contains a reference to “mummy brown” ink, centers the consenting human owner of the body and in doing so invokes thousands of mummified bodies that were used in various ways without the possibility of consenting, and harks back to the tradition of mummy stories built upon the sense of unease created by the inability to wholly erase the humanity of these bodies-as-collectable/consumable-objects. “Bit-U-Men” is probably the strongest story in the collection, both in the ways it harks back to and interrogates the traditional mummy story and in its fittingly thick-as-honey prose.

Headley’s story is one of many in the collection that play with that other great trope of mummy fiction—the love story. Early fictional mummies are usually female and beautiful; Gaultier’s Hermonthis, for example, possesses “the purest Egyptian type of perfect beauty.” Whether this was connected to a more general feminization of the Orient, or the erotic potential of veiling and unveiling (all those public mummy-unwrappings!) Victorian mummy fiction is full of the beautiful undead, whether they be beautiful and deadly (like Queen Tera, or even Rider Haggard’s Ayesha) or harmless like Hermonthis or Haggard’s Ma-Mee. Lou Morgan’s “Her Heartbeat, An Echo” has another Egyptian princess fall in love with a modern man—a museum security guard who refuses to treat her as an object and offers to share his lunch. The susceptibility of thousand-year-old beautiful princesses towards random British men is another fine Victorian tradition, but there’s something rather nice about this particular iteration of it. The eroticized female mummy takes on a different form in Michael West’s rather muddled story of rape and revenge, “Inner Goddess,” while David Thomas Moore’s “Old Souls” adapts the reincarnated lovers trope as a retelling of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter (complete with a reference to the film, so that we know it knows it’s doing it).

Jesse Bullington’s “Escape from the Mummy’s Tomb” is one of the few stories that refer to later cinematic iterations of the mummy. Seth Rasul (I don’t know how common “Seth” is as a modern Egyptian name; I suspect its use in two consecutive stories in this collection has more to do with its familiarity as an English or American name) is of Egyptian descent and the target of racist bullies at his British school. He also loves mummy movies and retreats into them when he is the target of abuse; in his head he is the mummy, a boy on whom he has a crush is a werewolf, said boy’s girlfriend is a vampire. I can’t help reacting rather uncomfortably to this story, which in most ways I love. It’s well done; Bullington never oversimplifies the complex relationships members of minority groups can have with the media we grow up with. And yet and yet and yet. Part of the point of “Escape from the Mummy’s Tomb” is that immigrants and minorities tend not to exist very much in mainstream culture, so that our relationships with the things that are conceivably “ours” can be possessive, even when we’re the monsters. Perhaps when it’s done this convincingly it’s irrelevant that Bullington (as far as I know) has never been a queer brown kid in a white school. And yet I keep coming back to that (all British/American) table of contents and think that maybe it does matter.

At the most basic level mummy stories are about dead bodies, and so about death and what you can and cannot keep holding on to. Maurice Broaddus’s “Cerulean Memories” and David Bryher’s “The Dedication of Sweetheart Abbey” focus on the physical aspects of this; the ways in which keeping a dead body around is rather horrifying. Glen Mehn’s “Henry” takes the opposite route with a focus on the virtual—if everything stays on the internet forever, how do you let go? This question of how you face the death of someone you love is at the heart of the last story in the collection, Will Hill’s “Three Memories of Death.” Hill’s story takes the form of a philosophical debate carried out by two men over decades, and it’s quiet and elegiac; a reminder that this genre can also be intensely personal.

Much of this review seems to consist of describing the ways in which these stories adapt classic tropes. Because even where there’s a clear, critical engagement with those tropes, most stories in the collection still feel very traditional. Sarah Newton’s “The Roof of the World” feels like a classic Victorian adventure set in the Pamir Mountains—I’m not convinced it’s a mummy story, but I like the genre enough not to mind. And despite its undercurrent of political commentary (or not “despite”; the original stories often do this too) Luckhurst’s “The Thing of Wrath” is very much a cozy Victorian horror story, complete with frame narrative (abandoned midway) and bad title. I love the mummy story because it’s rooted in a historical moment with which I’m fascinated; a collection like this one, where the strongest pieces focus on interrogating the origins of the genre and where attempts to update it feel more like window dressing than anything else, isn’t much of an argument for its resurrection. Perhaps Hill’s story is a fitting end to the collection, a reminder that sometimes it is necessary to let go.

 

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Rereading this has reminded me that someday I want to reread Louis Greenberg’s story alongside Beatrice Alemagna’s Un Lion à Paris (this is mostly a children’s literature blog, nowadays). Someday.

June 6, 2017

April and May Reading

By the time I sat down to write about what I’d read in April, it was nearly June (it is now very much June). Thus: a two month reading post, in which, as you’ll see, not very much actual reading was done.

 

Alex Wheatle, Straight Outta Crongton: Naturally I’ll be writing about this at length eventually, but some preliminary (potentially spoiler-y?) thoughts: firstly, there’s something interesting going on with time here. Straight Outta Crongton has as one of its major characters Elaine, older sister to the protagonist of Liccle Bit, but it’s set a few years before that novel, when Elaine is in her mid teens and hasn’t yet met Manjaro. So it’s a prequel; that in itself isn’t unusual–but all its cultural references are current. So either all three books take place in a much tighter time frame than I’ve been assuming (and even then, considering Obama is the former US president in this book that can’t be all), or Crongton is outside time for the space of the books (much as it’s set in a place that isn’t real), or this is the current book and Liccle Bit and Crongton Knights are set in the future. It’s also in many ways darker than the first two books, and thinking about that both in terms of This Historical Moment and of Wheatle’s switch to a cast of mostly women is interesting to chew on. It’s good, which is the important thing.

Robin Stevens, Cream Buns and Crime: Because I read every Robin Stevens book about ten minutes after it becomes available, I’d also been buying her Wells and Wong short stories as they came out as ebooks. Cream Buns and Crime is in part a vehicle for getting those short stories into print, so that alongside the couple of new stories and other material in this collection, I was effectively getting a bunch of things I’d already got. Which is not an unusual thing for a publisher to do, but did make the book a bit underwhelming as a New Robin Stevens Book. The couple of new stories are good, though I’m slightly offended at the break from the Hazel-writes-the-novels, Daisy-writes-the-shorts tradition (one of these is a Junior Pinkertons story, and one is narrated by Beanie.

Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern, Goldie Vance Vol. 1: The friend who lent this to me grabbed my interest by claiming it was a girl detective story, set in a 1950′s hotel, with a queer romance subplot–all of which made for a convincing argument. She did not mention the drag racing and cold war anxieties  (in retrospect, I ought to have expected both) or indeed the space! plot (which I did not expect). I don’t know how I feel about the comic’s choice to so completely identify with its heroine’s 20th century American fears of The Russians, however plausible that might be for this setting, but it’s still really charming.

Innosanto Nagara, My Night in the Planetarium: Nagara has featured in these monthly lists of reading before for his alphabet and counting board books, A is for Anarchist and Counting on Community. This is a few steps up as regards reading age–where the audience of A is for Anarchist was probably going to have to rely on parents for conversations about what “Zapatista” meant (which was one of the book’s strengths, of course), this has brief, accessible explanations of colonialism, censorship and recent history, woven into an autobiographical story. The art continues to be great, and I think Nagara’s achieving a really interesting balance between taking big things seriously and making them accessible to very young readers.

Rick Riordan, The Dark Prophecy: I don’t know that I have much to say about this, given that it’s mid-series; I did enjoy it, but was also a bit underwhelmed. The previous book set up a horrifying, complicated situation (wrt one character’s history of abuse, and her relationship to the man who abused her); the abuser is not in this book, which is nice; but the problem seems rather to have vanished for the duration of his absence, which is … hm. On the other hand, I’ve been reading these interconnected series since they started and there’s something so nice about (how to say this without sounding patronising? I don’t mean to be) seeing Riordan’s politics evolve, and seeing the books increasingly value particular forms of community and safety. (Also there’s a very good elephant.)

Elsie J. Oxenham, Stowaways in the Abbey; Strangers in the Abbey:  Readers of this blog know of my series-completionist side, which has led me to make unfortunate choices in the past. These two were the result of a visit to Barter books some weeks ago. I’ve read most of the Abbey series at some point or another, but my knowledge of the “retrospective” titles (see) is patchy. As with many fill in titles both of these are heavy on the foreshadowing (see for example Jen’s insistence that Joan is going to call her daughter Janice, and that said daughter will be May queen at school and will choose lobelias for her flower, or all the discussion of the marriageability of the various Marchwood brothers). While I was reading I was having thoughts about the level of emotion these books allow their characters to show (too much, she said disapprovingly)–it’s all heightened to a point that feels ludicrous to me, but then there are solid reasons for that, and if this was a genre other than Books For Mid-Century Girls they would probably be more clearly theorised. Still, these are extremely far from being among the better Oxenham books.