fawn/Orphans/’detritus’

17 January 2005 at 14:59 Leave a comment

I have just read another P.D. James mystery, The Murder Room (MR).

I do believe I’ve read them all, the largest portion of them in one sitting. A friend had loaned them all to me, and I wanted to return them as quickly as possible (I tend to forget things in general, and to return things or, in fact, to mail things specifically and continually). But the read-them-all-at-once scenario was a real mistake because in almost every single book there are these three things that have come to haunt me:

1. The color ‘fawn’

2. Orphans

3. ‘detritus’

Fawn couches, fawn sweaters, blouses and skirts. The color fawn tends to be on women or furniture, and normally on women who one is meant to like or respect or care about. The color fawn. It doesn’t seem like a usual word for a color. I’m guessing it’s beige or tan, something in the fair brown category. I didn’t notice it in MR, but somehow I feel that must have been my mistake, my oversight, and not that it was actually left out of the book.

And you have never seen so many orphans. Some are not technically orphans, having lost only one parent or just been abandoned, but most lost both of their parents to death at an early age. One character in Death in Holy Orders (DHO) was actually left on the doorstep of a seminary as an infant. Having never personally met even one orphan, I wonder at this universe of parentless children. These ‘orphans’ tend to be the ones killed or suspected. They are always in some way vulnerable and generally powerless. In DHO the idea also takes on some subtlety: Emma isn’t technically an orphan, but her mother died when she was three and her father gave all of his love to Emma’s sister and Emma ‘knew herself to be less loved’. So, now we even have emotionally abandoned. Maybe that’s the key to all the orphaning. That theme continues in MR with a woman whose father loved only his eldest daughter, and cared nothing for her or her mother. And again with the vulnerable orphan.

The word ‘detritus’ appears in every book except DHO (again, did I just miss it?), but really it’s the context in which it is used that matters. It’s always a discussion about the leavings of some person who has died. In DHO I got the discussion, but the word ‘detritus’ was absent.

The greatest example is from DHO: Our emotionally abandoned, fawn wearing Emma is going through the belongings of a dead person, also a fawn wearer, and ponders their ‘pathetic leavings’, who was apparently also abandoned, but by a lover lost in the war.

While reading The Murder Room, it struck me that all the characters seemed to share the same perspective and philosophy (or to hold themselves against said philosophy, in other words rebelling, not actually believing something different). So, not stilted, not 2-dimensional like Christie, but all one character put in different circumstances. They are all lonely, but crave privacy (just like Dalgliesh), which strikes me as unusual and paradoxical, not universal. And does no one love their children, and do none of their children love them? That’s James’ universe. I do find it depressing, which is why I’m not going to reread the other James books to see if all of her characters, always, are all entirely her. I just get the feeling that for each character she sits down and imagines, “If I were a 56-year-old divorced male bureaucrat, how would I feel? Ahhhh, lonely and in desperate need of privacy…”

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Entry filed under: reading.

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T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.

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