I have read all the Maisie Dobbs novels now and anxiously await the next one due out on 22 March 2011. The current novel being discussed is An Incomplete Revenge. This is one of my very favorites. Maisie helps James Compton discover the cause of mysterious fires set on some property he wants to purchase outside of London.
Why did I like this Maisie novel so much?
• I found out that Maisie’s mother was a gypsy, shining light on issues still relevant today.
• Maisie and her mentor Maurice Blanche’s rift is somewhat lessened (even if their relationship will never be the same).
• A strange Twilight Zone-like town and people are involved in the story and they have much to hide.
• I learned a little bit about a jazz musician who was popular in Paris.
book club girl has asked several questions and I will “weave” my answers into the discussion.
I was excited and surprised to learn that Maisie was part gypsy, giving her a different history than just daughter of a costermonger. Of course, this revelation gave Maisie an “in” to the gypsy clan around the town of Heronsdene, especially with the matriarch of the clan, Beulah. The prejudices and discriminating behavior towards the gypsies by the villagers and others were brought forth by Ms. Winspear during the course of the novel. Fear of those a little different and fear of the unknown always bring out the worst in people. Maisie’s abilities to intuit in a different way from most and her openness to new methods and ideas make Maisie such a great character. Maisie is someone who is so self-assured she can get along with anyone, be it those in high government office or a traveling band of gypsies.
Maisie taking up weaving at this point in the novels was a very good thing for her to do. She needed something to do with her hands that is repetitive and frees her mind (besides her normal meditation), yet also has a purpose in creating something beautiful and useful. I think she learned how an artistic outlet can be very therapeutic, as it was for Nicolas Bassington-Hope in Messenger of Truth. I enjoyed how Maisie helped enlighten Marta, her weaving teacher, to be proud of her own heritage.
Beattie Drummond was a new character introduced in this novel and she is a journalist turned novelist. Where have I seen that story before? I enjoyed having Beattie in the story, but really wish she had been even more involved and that she and Maisie had interacted even more and become closer friends. She could always figure into another story later. Her name kind of bugged me, though, as I always said in my head “beat the drum.” Maybe that is intentional?
Trying not to spoil the book, the plight of the van Maarten family was a major story line in this novel. Even though their story is quite different from the family in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” that is what I kept thinking of as I read about this family and the mysterious ways of the townspeople of the village. Of course this story is a harbinger of what is to happen in Europe in a few more years from this time period. Mob mentality, collective guilt, and attempts at atonement made An Incomplete Revenge so much more interesting.
Simon’s death was quite sad, but I think it was time for Ms. Winspear to free Maisie of Simon so that she can move on. I thought it was odd that Maisie deliberately avoided Simon’s mother for years and years, as it is not like Maisie to be so rigid (as I probably would be in the same situation). Maisie visited Maurice, her mentor, to discuss Simon’s death. I liked how Maisie sought out Maurice again after their rift and their relationship seems to be a bit more back to normal. I especially liked Maurice’s words of wisdom to Maisie:
“The concept of such an end brings to mind the phoenix, the sacred firebird, who at the end of life builds a nest of cinnamon twigs, which he ignites, and goes to his death amid flames that will bear new life . . . Of course, a new young Simon will not walk through that door to greet us, but I sense that seeing him go in this way, knowing there will only be ashes to sprinkle on the breeze, is a gift that has been given you, if you choose to take it . . .This is one of those times, Maisie, when you must not think, must not dwell and search for meaning. You have done those things, you have held Simon in your heart, and you have taken steps into a future that you might never have imagined in 1917. He is gone now. Think of the newborn phoenix and embrace it.”
From what I remember from the previous and most recent novels, Maisie is always a very good dancer and enjoys dancing very much, even if she feels coerced into a dance. Usually someone as cerebral as Maisie does not like and is not comfortable with something as base as dancing. Maybe this is where Maisie’s gypsy heritage is allowed to come out. Also, a party or a dance always provides a good backdrop for story development. I guess Ms. Winspear is trying to tell readers that there are numerous facets to a character and not to rule out any aspect of someone’s personality. This reminds me of how I was surprised to learn that baseball manager and former player Bobby Valentine is a great ballroom dancer.
At the end of An Incomplete Revenge, Maisie takes out “her one record, by a gypsy now famous in Paris, a man who had blended French passion with the spark of the Roma.” I think this man might be Django Reinhardt, but I could be mistaken. I found a link to some of his music. I also enjoyed learning about Denmark Street in London.
–Django Reinhardt from Wikipedia
Words from An Incomplete Revenge that I needed to look up:
aspidistra – popular house plant with long tough evergreen leaves and purplish flowers borne on the ground
barathea – a soft fabric of silk and cotton, silk and wool, or all wool
chivvy – chase away
coppiced – cut back by thinning and pruning
farrier – person who shoes horses
locum – someone (such as a priest or doctor) who does the work of another person who is away for a short time
luthier – someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments
lych-gate – is a gateway covered with a roof found at the traditional entrance to a (English) churchyard.
noddle – a person’s head
profligacy – recklessly wasteful; wildly extravagant
recce – a slang word for reconnaissance
stooks – heaps or bundles; a truss of flax or of sheaves of grain
Phrases I liked:
get on with it (all throughout the novels)
just cannot abide him
right you are
hatch, match, and dispatch
beng – a devil
chop – sale
diddakoi – gypsy outside the Romany tribes and of mixed blood
dinlo – fool
gorja – non-roma
kushti – good
mokada – sullied
moosh – man
pikey – derogative word for gypsy
rawni – little lady
rom – gypsy man or boy
sap – snake
shoshi – rabbit
vardo – wagon