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A Vanished World - Thank Goodness
on 7 April 2015
This is a review of the audio version. I find Heyer's detective stories interesting mainly for the light they shed on attitudes and fashions of the time. In this one an "Oxford Grouper" is introduced, just so that she can annoy everybody with her cultic jargon about being "God-guided". Ermyntrude is a retired actress who married money. Her daughter Vicky has inherited her theatrical gifts and loves posing as a "tennis girl" or "one of our modern young people". Some of the stereotypes she is taking off are lost in the mists of time. For the "modern" pose she bunches her curls at the back of the neck and wears blue mascara - probably irritating fads of that year. Ermyntrude has a no-good husband, Wally, and a creepy admirer, "the Prince". She has a couple of decent admirers as well, but there are some dubious cousins of Wally living in a nearby house. Surrounded by these larger-than-life types are an ordinary couple, Mary and Hugh. We think that Mary, Ermyntrude's step-daughter, is the sensible one whose fortunes we will follow. She is impatient of her family's antics - but needs she be so unkind to Vicky? I failed to follow how the murder was done, just about twigged WHO done it, but never understood why. It all ends rather abruptly.
The reader of this tale of aspirant English folk is Ulli Birvé, who is obviously Australian. Somewhat of a bluffing poseur herself, she has persuaded the American producers of this audio version that she sounds perfectly English. She's quite good at the fussy Mary, and the affected Vicky. But she makes Ermyntrude "common" throughout. Ermyntrude has been on the stage, and surely speaks a theatre version of "proper" English. Which makes it all the more funny that she calls people "dearie". Apart from Hugh, the doctor, and Steel, the local farmer, all the men are portrayed as "common", even Wally. They ought to sound like dubious gentlemen. Also, in Birvé's reading, they ALL come across as Australian. She is better at the local policeman, who is given a slight digruntled whine. Heyer's series detective, Hemingway, is not exactly a gent, but it seems a shame to make him an Australian as well. She over-corrects "county" to "country" several times, and frequently gives sentences the wrong stress.
The book throws an interesting light on the way the English treated the display of emotion. Mary is vocally "disgusted" by Ermy and Vicky's reactions to the murder, complaining that it is just like the "Lyceum" - a well-known venue for melodramas. Vicky accuses another Alan, who is a bit of a "red", of being "theatrical". Both Vicky and Janet, Alan's drippy sister, aren't prepared to react to a tragedy, and don't even seem to recognise their own feelings. Janet is told off for sobbing.
Both Mary and Janet live at home, helping to run the household. The glimpse we get of a grand country house is stifling. It would be like living in a hotel, you'd be stuck with your family, and you'd have hardly any privacy.