To Read or Not To Read in Order?

Readers of this blog might have the impression that I’m not a particularly orderly person. (Those who have seen my bookshelves a while ago in the delicious blog series of Danielle will nod a great deal). While I don’t call myself “messy”, I don’t attach a particular importance to reading books in order (although I totally respect those who have the discipline and inclination to do otherwise).

Or should I start now?

Recently I stumbled at the library upon a pristine new copy of a Benjamin Black mystery, Elegy for April (2010).

Reader, how I hesitated!

Although I loved Christine Falls, I’d never had the opportunity to get to his second mystery: The Silver Swan. It sits comfortably in my wishlist on Bookmooch, but these darlings are not really likely to be given away very often… well, who knows really? I can understand that Black’s icy mysteries set in 1950s Dublin may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or whiskey?).

The second reason for my hesitation was that the book was in French. Christine Falls had stricken me for being so great with words, really a noir in poetry, with such a forte in atmospheres and descriptions, that I doubted if a translated version could replicate the same awesome experience.

But how long would it still take for me to get an English copy of The Silver Swan really? Another year or two? So you guessed it, I caved in and borrowed the Elegy for April.

The French was good and the atmosphere, always as dripping with cold guilt and a bad mix between Catholic church, bourgeoisie, lies and secrets as I’d remembered.

This time, Quirke, the reserved and solitary pathologist with a heavy past and a subsequent problem with alcohol, comes to investigate the disappearance of April Latimer, a girlfriend of his daughter Phoebe. Has she decided to leave for England without telling her friends and family, a conservative and stiffly upper-class clan? Why should he meddle himself or involve the police, when he’s never even met the girl? Why is Phoebe so worried for her best friend, who turns out so different from what she’d always thought?

I couldn’t help but find the pretext a little thin, but the magic of atmosphere worked, and after a while, it didn’t really matter. It’s a noir mystery, but there’s not much action, more like a study of characters and the description of icy roads and an interminable winter.

But all the while, I kept having this nagging feeling of missing out on something, some secrets of recurrent characters that might have been revealed in the Silver Swan. Darn, I should probably have waited to read The Silver Swan first before borrowing the Elegy for April. It’s very fitting that doubt and guilt get at me after such a book. But I’ll never know for sure, unless I catch up with the second book very soon. And in English this time around!

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3 thoughts on “To Read or Not To Read in Order?

  1. I always try to read an author’s output in chronological order, not simply because if there is a series you so often get spoilers in the later books but because I like to see how a writer develops both in terms of their style and also in relation to their outlook on the world around them. I think this probably comes from my Shakespeare studies where I have twice undertaken research on the playwright’s treatment of particular motifs and have needed to follow how that changed over the canon.

  2. I try to read a series chronologically, but sometimes I just can’t. For instance, a friend handed me a copy of The Rembrandt Affair, a spy novel by Daniel Silva in which the main character is Gabriel Allon, an Israeli spy turned art restorer. I didn’t expect to like it, but loved it. And so I started buying up the series, book by book, when I could find them on sale at Barnes & Noble, or at the library’s Big Book Sale. I don’t bother to read them in order. I do, however, try to shelve books by author – I gave up Dewey Decimal or alphabetical order a long time ago. So, if I meander around the shelves, I will eventually find the author and thus the book. When I retire, I’ll do the shelves up correctly. Until then, bedlam reigns!

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