I have always adored Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry for their wit, intelligence, and insight into the human scene, so when I saw that Mr. Laurie had written a novel, I had to read it. Yes, "The Gunseller" is droll, filled with arcane information about the global, illegal gun trade, and astute, especially on the male psyche when confronted with a pretty woman. This is not great literature, nor is it exactly a crime drama, though there are crimes aplenty. The protagonist/narrator has a quip for every occasion. Laurie can make murder funny. As I read the book, I kept having to remind myself of the seriousness of the book's subject. It will never replace "War and Peace," but if you enjoy British wordplay, vivid characters, and a tangled plot, you will like this novel.
I had never heard of Susan Hill until a friend loaned (lent?) me "Howard's End is on the Landing," a memoir cum booklist that Ms. Hill compiled during a year of "reading from home." For a year, she purchased no new books, instead returning to her own copiously filled bookshelves for books as yet unread, as well as old favorites. Susan Hill is a few years older than I, but we are of the same generation. We share the same cultural and literary references and a very similar approach to literature, though she is English and I am American. She loves books the way I do, so as I read her comments about books and authors she knew or has met, I felt I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. I learned about writers hitherto unknown to me who I will now certainly track down and read, and I read with delight her accounts of the Sitwells, T.S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, C. P. Snow and his wife Pamela Hansford Johnson (am I the only person on this side of the pond who has read them?), Iris Murdoch, and the list goes on. Hill is herself a novelist, and I already have one of her novels in my pile of books to read. I am grateful to her for introducing me to some new (to me) writers and for her judgments about books I too have read. We do not agree on everything though. She dismisses Australian and Canadian literature, even though she does mention Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant. I love them; she doesn't. She is a Christian and includes the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer on her list of 40 essential books. She appreciates the silence of the cloister and writers who have found refuge in monastic life. I guess I feel about that the way she feels about Canada: I'd rather not go there. This is a gem of a book that has short chapters and is easy to read. Only occasionally did I stumble; she has an authorial "tic" whereby she repeats phrases for emphasis and it becomes annoying. (I have spent a few minutes searching for an example and found none, but I'd say there are at least half a dozen of these constructions in the book, enough to leap off the page and eventually lose their punch.) Now I am ready to get down to business and read through (much of) her list myself.