Review: Giants’ Bread

Giants' Bread
Giants’ Bread by Mary Westmacott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #13 for 2017/#6 for the Mt TBR Challenge
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book published before you were born
PopSugar’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Prompts:
– A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
– A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
– A book written by someone you admire
– A book with an eccentric character
– A book that’s been mentioned in another book
Personal Reading Challenge Task: A book with a woman on the cover
Better World Books Challenge Prompt: A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Prompt: A book published between 1900 and 1950

I must say that I am not pleased with Dell’s production quality for this book. For starters, the correct title is Giant’s Bread — singular possessive. All other editions got it right, and it’s the only usage that makes any sense at all, as it is lifted straight from the prologue. And then the text itself is full of typos. “Titantic,” really? And “lesé majestè”?? And those are just the interesting ones. There’s a garden-variety oops on every other page, practically. FFS, Dell, were you all stoned when you slapped this thing together? Oh, wait, with that ugly-ass Binger cover, I don’t even have to look to know this volume is a product of the sixties, so of course you were all stoned.

The story itself is a little harder to rate and review. I’ve been a fan of Christie’s mysteries and nonfiction since I was a kid, and I have read many of her books at least twice. But I had no idea what to expect from her “romance” fiction. I’m not sure this qualifies as a romantic story, but I’m also not the right person to ask for that determination. I will just say it was an interesting departure from her mysteries. It opens with a prologue featuring a stunning new operatic composition, a work of musical genius, and then the rest of the book shows us how it came to be and what sacrifices were involved.

It’s really quite a rambling soap opera at times, and it’s not at all a quick, easy read. I got the distinct impression that Christie was working through a lot of her personal issues on the page, so while the insights were fascinating, there was also a weight of catharsis that made it slow going in spots. Actually, what I would love to see is the Downton Abbey crew tackle this and make a mini-series of it. They could easily even out the pacing, like where Christie spends way too long detouring into Nell’s life as a nurse in WWI. (Like I said, interesting stuff, but dude, Nell’s not the main character. Get back to Vernon!) And given how they handled the whole Aldridge wedding storyline, with some of Lady Sinderby’s pointed comments not terribly unlike Mrs Levinne’s, I think they could even deal with the story’s potentially anti-Semitic tones.

The Levinne storyline is another thing that makes this book a bit of a puzzle. The anti-Semitism that runs rampant throughout Golden Age mysteries gets talked about a lot, but so far in my (re-)reading of the Christie oeuvre, I’m seeing a very different take on how she treats Jewish characters. The Levinnes, for example, are written as very sympathetic characters. Sebastian is Vernon’s stalwart friend, whom Vernon’s beloved cousin Josephine accepts readily. It’s clear that Christie likes the Levinnes and is unhappy about the discrimination they are forced to suffer at the hands of less progressive characters. Yet Christie uses some really offensive stereotypes in describing the Levinnes and other Jewish characters. Some of them don’t even make any sense. Like the lisping — where did that come from? For now, I think I’m going to put down her seemingly anti-Semitic passages to a combination of naïveté and a too-subtle sense of irony.

Despite it being somewhat problematic and often depressing, I did enjoy Vernon’s journey of self-discovery and fulfillment of his artistic vision. It’s always a treat when Christie indulges her more artsy tendencies, and I often wonder what amazing works we would have if she’d never taken up writing and had instead unleashed her talent at a piano or an easel.

View all my reviews

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