Wednesday, April 21, 2010

25. The Glass Cage by Colin Wilson

Halfway baby! Well, so far I have lived up to my goal of not allowing a major drop-off in book reading in the spring. Specifically, I'm shooting for at 4 books a month for March, April and May and so far have done that. It is still a drop-off from the first part of the year, but that was an extreme case with my vacation and all. 50 books is hard! I'm not even a third of the way through the year and have already read 25 books. At this rate (I think to myself over-optimistically as usual) that I should be able to read 75 books this year. But when you really figure it out, that still leaves 50 books in 8 months, which is still 6+ books a month, which is not easy to do. I'll be happy reaching 50 again.

I picked up the Glass Cage a long time ago on the strength of Colin Wilson's awesome (but ultimately unsatisfying because it never concludes) Spider World series. It's been on my on-deck shelf for at least a couple years. I enjoyed it immensely. The language, the gentle behaviour of the characters and the setting all strongly appealed to me. I don't know what it is about Britain in the 60s and 70s, but everybody just seems so much more civil and educated. And the language, both the dialogue and the descriptions, is rich and involved without being overly complex. Ultimately, it is a quiet, psychological murder investigation without any real suspense. I wouldn't even necessarily strongly recommend. Just for me, it was really enjoyable and I read it quite quickly.

The protagonist is a young, hermetic Blake scholar who hears about a murderer in London who leaves Blake quotations near his dismembered victims. The scholar decides that he needs to go to London to try and solve the mystery. It's partly because the Blake quotations fascinate him but also because he needs to know if he is too disengaged from society. He studied at Oxford and still has several friends and aquaintances in London so has no trouble getting reconnected. His analysis and psychological deduction lead him to a very interesting man who may be the murderer. The study of this character is quite fascinating and the hero starts to make friends with him.

What is notable about the book is the amazingly humane way the characters talk about crime. It is seriously in play that the murderer may be capable of redemption and if so should be allowed to live his life. The concern is not that he should be punished for his past crimes, but that it be ensured that he won't do them again. I don't know if this is a reflection of the author's position or just the liberal mores of London at the time, but there are conversations that go on in the book that would be pretty upsetting even offensive to many angry North Americans today. Is this fantasy anger against criminals something that is relatively new to our society, something borne out of political discourse and commercial media in the last few decades?

The physical book itself that I found is beautifully put together. It's a paperback, but with pages so thick they are almost card stock. The binding is stitched in seven parts and then glued to the cover, so that you can look down on the top and see how many sevenths of the book you've read. Very nice to handle and read. I'm sorry to say that I didn't treat it as well as it deserved when I was reading it and rough handling took out the corner of the cover as you see in the scan above.

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