This book took forever (forever!) to read. I have recently returned to the library after a long absence and of course I checked out a book that I needed to renew. Twice.
Ok. On to the book. Gaudy Night is the 10th Lord Peter Whimsy book by Dorothy L. Sayers. I say this to point out that there is a backstory between the two main characters that is referenced to, but you don’t need to read them in order. The first book I read in the series actually takes place a few years down the road and I won’t spoil some of the plot issues that are resolved over the length of the book, but needless to say, the characters in this book are compelling if they are thinking about being together, if they have decided not to be together or if they are in the process of making some sort of decision. In other words, while the romance is central to the story, the detective work is really the star of the show.
Another thing I want to warn you about is that this detective novel is not about Muuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrdeeerrrr. Since it takes place in Oxford and I am a fan of the Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis series, I was expecting a body at any moment. I’m not saying that a murder does or does not happen, just understand that the main mystery, one that grows more compelling as the book progresses, is figuring out who is behind the vandalism. This vandal writes poison pen letters and torments the deans of the all-female Shrewsbury College and destroys college property.
This book was written in the 1930s and mainly deals with women struggling to define their roles as independent thinkers and truly fulfilled adults. The reason I picked this book was that it is often called, the first truly feminist detective novel.
Now the reason this book took forever for me to read is that as an American, I had to spend a lot of time on dictionary.com and Wikipedia learning about the college rituals that are referenced in the book. My suggestion before you even start the book is to make sure you understand what a college is (Oxford is full of them) and a Dean, a Burser, a Scout and so on. This site, http://www.lmh.ox.ac.uk/Student-life/Jargon.aspx was very helpful.
I also ended up keeping a cheat sheet of characters as I tried to solve the mystery. Sayers will switch between first and last names and job titles throughout the book. Since it is a bit long, that was hard to keep up with. Especially if you are trying to solve the mystery.
It might sound like I am not recommending the book, but I am. It’s just not an easy read. It is so worth it though, especially as a historic perspective on the roles of women. We have come so far and yet the struggles these characters face are frighteningly similar to the issues that women deal with today too. The post WW1 relief is also present throughout the book and there are characters who belief that there will be no wars ever again even as one character is actively dealing with unrest among heads of state in Europe. Knowing what is coming for the characters, especially the carefree young male students is heartbreaking.
Dive in. It will take a bit of effort, but the payoff is delightful.