Floored – devastated- stunned!!

April 25, 2007 at 5:34 pm (books, Mystery fiction)

Books discussed in this entry:

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

With No One As Witness by Elizabeth George

Sometimes reading is a sweet release and an escape; other times, a book can plunge you straight into a Slough of Despond. Two titles come to mind. The first is A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry. This novel takes pleace in India in the early 1970’s, when emergency measures instituted by then Prime Minister Indira Ghandi went into effect throughout India.

Having lost her young husband in a tragic accident, seamstress Dina Dalal takes in boarders in order to make ends meet. One, Maneck Kohlah, is a student; the two others are Ishfar Darji and his nephew Omprakash. Together, they struggle to survive while the powers of the state seem deliberately arrayed against them. The outside world is at best, indifferent to their tribulations; at worst, it is cruel and malevolent. Yet these four people continue to battle for even the smallest crumbs, while never losing their basic humanity. Mistry makes you care deeply about these four people, and then…well, I don’t want to give anything away. If and when you choose to read this unutterably sad, unmistakably brilliant book, keep in mind the admonition of Marc Antony: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”

You really have to prepare to shed them – copiously – if you read WITH NO ONE AS WITNESS by Elizabeth George. First, let me say right off the bat that I’ve not been fan of George’s Lynley novels for some time now. It had been a while since I’d read a book in that series, but this one was getting exceptional reviews, so I thought – wanting to be broadminded, mind you – that this might be the time to jump back into the series and try once again to figure out what it is about this writer that so many mystery readers love. Why was I not enthralled by her books like so many other fans of crime fiction?

Okay, well, I was enthralled all right. Enthralled and horrified. Again, I don’t want to spoil things for potential readers of this particular book, but all I can say is that something happens in WITNESS that I found so irredeemably awful that I became deeply upset and literally lost sleep over it. George has since published another book concerned with the actors in this one. It is entitled WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER. I have not been able to make myself read it.

I would be interested hear from readers who may have also read either of these books as to whether they were similarly affected. I would also enjoy hearing from you if you were affected in a similar way by another book.


  1. Reason to rejoice: a bumper crop of British procedurals « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Elizabeth George: Careless in Red (Havers and Lynley). May 6 […]

  2. Patricia Porter said,

    Elizabeth George’s latest novel, “Careless in Red” rapidly propels her toward the praise of the critics and the loss of her most faithful readers. As a reader of every one of her Lynley/Havers mysteries, I was tremendously disappointed in every aspect of the book except Lynley’s growing appreciation of and (hopefully) fondness for, Barbara Havers.

    Mysteries for me, as for many others, are an exciting escape from reality. Barbara Havers has, however, become reality, as I have come to regard her almost as a living person. She embodies everything that is admirable, for she is courageous, selfless, and smart. Barbara is even willing to give up her life for others. It is obvious that she loves Lynley, and with each book I keep hoping that Lynley will also come to love her. Come on now, let’s have Havers update her wardrobe and see a dentist and hair stylist, give her a chance! (Since this is fiction, I’ll have to add that I was thrilled when frivolous, mindless Helen was removed from the series. leaving the way open for Barbara.) Let’s have more mystery and less character study, with some romance!!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Patricia. Over the years I’ve had many problems with Elizabeth George. At the time that I read WITH NO ONE AS WITNESS, I had been taking an extended vacation from her work for some time. I despaired of her tendency to write humorless, overwrought melodrama and pass it off as profound literature. (What amazes me is how many people seem to love her books for those same qualities!) I was blindsided by the power of WITNESS, & thought that maybe I could once again enjoy her books. No such luck. I couldn’t agree with you more about CARELESS IN RED. Too many characters, & all they seemed to do was to act out their psychodramas in every tiresome confrontational meeting. I got a third of the way through & had to give up.
      I’m not quite as taken by Barbara Havers as you are, but I do find her likeable & straightforward. And I still like Lynley, & pity him. One of my frustrations with CARELESS IN RED is that is started off so well – wonderful descriptions of Cornwall – but things went downhill from there- at least they did for this reader.

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