P.D. James, in addition to being one of the finest writers of detective fiction, is a rare bird indeed: a mystery writer whose politics are far from progressive.
At the age of 88, Baroness James is still at the peak of her form. I’m in the middle of reading her latest novel, The Private Patient, which is a vintage English country-house murder mystery.
But it’s not undisturbed by the crisis of post-modernity, as evidenced by this passage from pages 29-30. The author is referring to a group of wedding-guests in their sixties and seventies:
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They could, she thought, have looked much the same in the 1930s and ’40s. She was discomforted by a new and unwelcome emotion compounded of pity and anger. She thought, I don’t belong here, I’m not happy with them, nor they with me. Their embarrassed mutual politeness can’t bridge the gap between us. But this is where I came from, these are my people, the upper working class merging into the middle class, that amorphous, unregarded group who fought the country’s wars, paid their taxes, clung to what remained of their traditions. They had lived to see their simple patriotism derided, their morality despised, their savings devalued. They caused no trouble. Millions of pounds of public money wasn’t regularly siphoned into their neighbourhoods in the hope of bribing, cajoling or coercing them into civic virtue. If they protested that their cities had become alien, their children taught in overcrowded schools where 90 per cent of the children spoke no English, they were lectured about the cardinal sin of racism by those more expensively and comfortably circumstanced. Unprotected by accountants, they were the milch-cows of the rapacious Revenue. No lucrative industry of social concern and psychological analysis had grown up to analyse and condone their inadequacies on the grounds of deprivation or poverty.
As usual, P.D. James is recommended reading.