Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review - Dodie Smith's The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath

The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath by Dodie Smith
Published by: H.W. Allen
Publication Date: 1978
Format: Hardcover, 155 Pages
Rating: ★
Out of Print

Nan Mansfield used to be something of a name on stage and screen. She used to be happy and not full of ennui. This was all before Roy. Roy, the love of her life, the man she is now tailing in a taxi cab where she sees him suspiciously exchanging a package with an odd man. Well, she doesn't actually see the exchange, and she thought that the man was really a woman, but lucky for her Tim the Taxi driver saw it all. Luckily he is also a writer on the side who has specialized in spy fiction so he fills her head to brimming with ideas of what could be happening. Roy is after all a member of Parliament and therefore has governmental secrets, hence his insistence that his wife give up her unseemly career. But what could be more unseemly than meeting nefarious people in the park in the dead of night? But Nan insists that he can't be involved with the Russians, as he doesn't like them. She'd far rather it was an affair, because it's such a lesser crime than treason. In order to keep a hold of her sanity Tim suggests she records her thoughts. Nan, having an old tape recorder starts this process and finds that not only is it a good record of events, should something happen, but it helps her work things out. All of which leads to more and more questions.

Then things take a rather odd turn. Roy seems more his normal self and his old patrons, Cyprian and his sister Celina Slepe, odd siblings, possibly incestuous, possibly asexual, invite them to their ancestral pile for the weekend. It truly is a pile. A stately house not even worthy of the word house. There Nan meets a mysterious count and learns that Cyprian hates her, viewing she is too low class for Roy because her one claim to fame is a commercial where she baths by candlelight, where they insinuate but never show too much. The whole weekend is cut short and Roy encourages Nan to return to her career. But if the man chasing her through the theatre or the gunman in the alley have anything to say, it will be that Nan shall act or live no more.

Reading I Capture the Castle I instantly went on a hunt for more books by Dodie Smith that didn't have Dalmatians in them. I was surprised to find that the majority of them are out of print. After reading this book, I can see why, The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath is very understandably out of print. Returning to themes utilized in I Capture the Castle, the lost illusory fame, the diary-like format, the moldering pile of a home in the country, Dodie fails miserably to recreate the magic of her previous book. The heroine is so unlikable, dumb and sycophantically devoted to a husband who shows her no love and has her sleeping in a tiny closet of a room. Yet she instantly starts to trust a taxi driver whom she doesn't even know? She'll suspect her true love but believe devotion from a stranger? She is too dumb for words. The supporting characters aren't able to make up for the failings of the lead because they aren't fleshed out. We have two creepy siblings, which could have gone somewhere, but they are quickly relegated to hasty caricatures and then left alone. I should also mention the mess of an ending. There is no way that you would have been able to figure out what is going on because everything is seen through the eyes of the dimwitted Nan; therefore we have to have not one, but two lengthy explanations as to what really happened. A book should tell the story throughout, not have to rely on a afterword to make it make sense! The only thing I found remotely appealing, aside from the fact I can return this to the library at once, where the actors hired to pretend to be country house servants, now there's something that was funny and I'd like to see explored more... maybe one day I should get around to writing a book, I couldn't do one this bad even if I tried.


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