Monday 30 October 2017

The Best Sure Cure for Homesickness

The best sure cure for homesickness, which can strike at any point on a foreign holiday, is a detective story. I shall unashamedly take Patricia Highsmith, whom I am re-reading, and who does not seem to date in the very least, and hope that Ripley - her amoral character - will give me the independence to sail through any uncomfortable encounter. I shall also take Henry James's The Spoils of Poynton, which is a kind of detective story, and read breathlessly until the new owner of the property is revealed.
'Holiday Reading', Observer, 4 July 1993

I've mentioned The Spoils of Poynton before. I vaguely remember Brookner saying she reread it regularly, even annually, marvelling at its technical qualities. But I've never found the reference. Perhaps this is what I remember, though I didn't take the Observer in those days.

The Spoils of Poynton is one of James's transitional works, the first or one of the first of the later 1890s novels he wrote after the problems he'd had during his playwright phase. It's an intense little drama, full of quotable writing. It's one of James's most Brooknerian novels.

We're nearly in November now, and the piece above belongs to an earlier season. What an atmosphere of summers past it evokes! That vignette of Brookner heading off abroad (where? where?) and suffering homesickness! Her hard-won independence in the face of uncomfortable encounters!

I love these celebrity vox pop pieces. Here she keeps company with Craig Raine, Adam Thorpe, Katharine Whitehorn and Penelope Fitzgerald.


  1. Oh I love this - I imagine her sitting beside an Italian lake, or in the grounds of a beautiful chambre d'hote in the Loire, reading her detective stories. And I agree with her about the comfort of such books when one is homesick. I'm always miserable at least some of the time when away. I've read Maeve Binchy while in the Pyrenees, DL Stevenson while in a rain sodden Spain and Barbara Pym just anywhere. I read the whole of Jim Crumley's wonderful 'Nature's Architect' (about beavers, jazz and Frank Gehry) on a long flight (I'm a terrified flier). Detective stories are especially comforting. Edmund Crispin is good, I find. Never heard of 'The Spoils of Poynton' - I will look it up. Thanks for this post; you do get a lot into a few lines.

  2. Thanks for your recommendations, Rosemary. I'm off to Vienna at Christmas and like to plan my reading well ahead of other preparations.


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