Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A bit bonkers. That's why she's such an exceptional writer

I've long been a big fan of Margery Allingham, one of the quirkiest and most interesting of the 'Golden Age' crime writers.  I was therefore intrigued to stumble across this fascinating and, for a newspaper article, usually detailed account of her life and works.  Allingham still tends to be underrated, compared with Agatha Christie or Dorothy L Sayers, but I think she was a better writer than either.  I'd include her best work - particularly The Tiger in the Smoke and Hide My Eyes - among my favourite books in any genre. But she was hard to pigeon-hole - the article quotes her biographer, Julia Jones: "Margery might write the same 'book' twice, but never more. So you get huge disparities between one book and the next."  That's very true - some of the books are funny and light-hearted, others are dark and ominous, but they all have a distinctive voice which seems to offer a new perspective on the world.

The articles detail the difficulties and challenges faced by Allingham, who suffered from a series of physical and mental health problems.  Julia Jones concludes: "... Margery, in the nicest sense of the word, was a bit bonkers. That's why she's such an exceptional writer.”  I don't know whether that syllogism is entirely sustainable, but I certainly feel that the remarkable qualities of Allingham's books stem, in part, from her ability to see things just a little differently from the rest of us. 

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