sábado, 24 de julho de 2010
P.D. James solves the mystery of living a full life
By Carol Memmot, USA TODAY
ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY 2 — P.D. James, the reigning queen of the British detective novel, is in a festive mood, fitting for a legendary woman who's about to turn 90.
Over the past week she has ruled the waves aboard the world's largest ocean liner as it carried passengers from Southampton, England, to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York, where it docked Monday.
"She's a magnificent ship. It's lovely to be on her," says James, who, as a guest lecturer, shared stories with fellow passengers about her life and career.
And she was thrilled, she says, to meet so many American fans. "They are so enthusiastic. It's lovely to have a chat, shake their hands and sign a book." In all she signed 600 and will most likely sign as many on the return trip to England.
Chatting with a reporter in one of the ocean liner's private club rooms, James is relaxed and ebullient as she talks about her nearly 50-year career, the novels that have catapulted her to iconic status in the world of British crime fiction and her birthday on Aug. 3.
"I don't get tired of people telling me how well I look," James says with a laugh. "It's much better than people saying 'poor old thing, she looks over 100.' I think people love to say how wonderful you are, because if I am managing to keep well and feeling energetic, they'll be able to, too. It's rather consoling to them that 90 isn't the end."
James, who had a heart attack three years ago, looks healthy but frail. She says she feels well but tires easily. "I asked the doctor what's wrong with me, but all that's wrong is that I'm 89 and the old heart and lungs are not what they were."
Phyllis Dorothy James — she chose P.D. James as her pen name because she decided it "would look best on the book spine," but she's Phyllis to her friends — has written 18 novels since 1962. Fourteen of them star Commander Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard.
"She is a legend in her own right as a crime writer and a national treasure," says Daniel Mallory, an expert on crime fiction based at Oxford University in England. "She's a huge best seller, but her books have real craft and real heft. They've got literary merit, but they are also cracking good reads. She's the crime writer to whose stature and status all other crime writers would aspire in this country."
She is so beloved in England that her portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. In 1983 she was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire), and in 1991 she was made Baroness James of Holland Park.
He's the man
And then there's Dalgliesh.
No matter the setting, be it a sandy beach near a theological college, a plastic surgeon's private clinic, a church vestry in London or an island off the Cornish coast, Dalgliesh deftly solves the murders of characters including a housemaid, a government minister, a theological student and an investigative journalist.
"I have always thought and said he was the most intelligent detective in fiction," says Ruth Rendell, a longtime friend of James' and author of the Inspector Wexford series. "I get fed up with all these womanizing drunks. They are not sexy, whatever their creators may think, but Dalgliesh is. He is a most attractive man."
Dalgliesh, James says, most certainly "is a very attractive man. He had to represent the qualities I most admire in a man. So I made him very courageous but not foolhardy. I made him compassionate but not sentimental, which I hate. I made him a very good detective and I decided to give him an artistic interest and made him a poet, and there he was."
The soft-spoken and highly intelligent poet/detective was portrayed by British actor Roy Marsden in the TV series.
The last Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published by Knopf in 2008.
James isn't sure whether she'll write a 15th Dalgliesh novel, although she is writing another book.
"I'm writing a shorter novel and one that's entirely different because I felt I wasn't quite sure whether I could begin a new Dalgliesh, which takes about three years to do. I hate the thought of not completing it," James says in a subtle acknowledgement of her age.
"When you're a writer, you're never happy if you're not plotting or planning or writing, so I had an idea that excited me, but I'm keeping it very secret. It's quite different, but I think my readers will like it. But I don't like to talk about it until it's done."
What it won't be, she says with a smile: "It's not going to take place on the QM2, and a very disagreeable female passenger is going to be killed who's only on the boat because she's giving a series of lectures, and then we'd call in Dalgliesh and get it solved."
When the new novel is done — maybe by next February — she'll make up her mind whether she has the energy for a new Dalgliesh novel.
"I try to be very honest with my readers and with myself. I think it's very important when you turn 90 to make sure the standard is maintained. Nothing would be more dreadful for me than having reviewers saying, 'Considering that this novel was written when Baroness James is over 90 is an extraordinary achievement but not, of course, vintage P.D .James.' I would hate that."
No matter what she decides, she has fulfilled her lifelong dream.
A multi-faceted career woman
James, who splits her time between London and Oxford, was a successful career woman working as a hospital administrator and later in various government jobs, including as a magistrate in London and Middlesex. But she had always wanted to write a novel.
"I remember a moment in my 30s," James says, "when it suddenly dawned on me that if I went on delaying writing that I'd be a failed writer telling my children and grandchildren that I'd desperately wanted to be a writer. I thought that this would be appalling and that I'd really have to make time and get started."
James, born in Oxford in 1920, grew up in Ludlow and then in Cambridge, where she attended the Cambridge High School for Girls. She left school at 16 and was married at 21 to Ernest Connor Bantry White. Their daughters, Clare and Jane (named for Jane Austen, James' favorite author), were born during World War II. White, who spent part of the war in India with the Royal Army Medical Corps, returned suffering from mental illness. He was hospitalized and finally institutionalized. He was 44 when he died in 1964. James never remarried.
In a story that in some ways mirrors that of another celebrated British author, J. K. Rowling, James wrote her first novel, Cover Her Face, the first in the Dalgliesh series, in her late 30s on the train while commuting to and from work. Rowling was a single mother struggling to support her daughter and says her idea for Harry Potter came to her while she was riding a train in Great Britain.
Cover Her Face was published in 1962 and was critically praised. Despite its success and that of subsequent novels, James didn't retire to write full time until 1979.
Five decades after her first book was published, every new book she writes is "a major event," says Mallory, who has read all of them. He likens her celebrity to that of another British author, master spy novelist John le Carré. "He is seen as a real prestige author, but he's also accessible to the mainstream."
James is equally admired by American writers and booksellers.
"What I love about her is the complexity of her characters," says Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles novels (now a TNT series). "She gives us this deep, deep look into the English character, and she takes her time slowly, slowly delving into the people she's writing about. American writing tends to be more frantic. We feel we need to keep up with Hollywood's fast, fast world."
Betsy Burton of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City says she's been a fan since Cover Her Face was first published. "I'm a mystery buff to begin with," Burton says, "but she's the be-all and end-all. She is totally satisfying novelistically. People have tried to emulate her, but I don't think anybody else is as good."
Her friends marvel as James enters her 10th decade. "The wonder is not so much that she doesn't look anywhere near 90, though she doesn't, but that her mind is unimpaired by age, is still razor-sharp and packed with all sorts of esoteric knowledge," Rendell says.
James wrote in her 1999 memoir Time to Be in Earnest: "If 77 is a time to be in earnest, eighty is a time to recognize old age, accepting with such fortitude as one can muster its inevitable pains, inconvenience and indignities and rejoicing in its few compensations."
Today, James still emanates an aura of contentment and a zest for life.
"I should have, shouldn't I, my dear? I've had a very happy life. There have been bad moments in it. Some very bad moments. But one comes through the bad moments. Every night I say a prayer of gratitude for the day that has passed and for still being here."
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 20:08