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Where Was Rebecca Shot? Puzzles, Curiosities, and Conundrums in Modern Fiction (1998)

por John Sutherland

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This is a literary criticism of 20th-century fiction, detailing puzzles, conundrums and anomalies in our favourite works and most revered narratives, from high literature to pulp fiction.
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This book is John Sutherland's fourth collection of literary oddities and puzzles, a series that includes "Is Heathcliff a Murderer?: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Literature," "Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? : More Puzzles in Classic Fiction", and "Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? : Further Puzzles in Classic Fiction".

This work includes 38 "puzzles" (each a separate, brief chapter), on a variety of works of classic and popular fiction. Among the works discussed are Women in Love (DH Lawrence), The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness (both by Joseph Conrad), To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf), Ulysses (James Joyce), Lord of the Flies (Wm Golding), Lucky Jim (Martin Amis), The Odessa File (Frederick Forsyth), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe), Midnight's Children (Rushdie), Beloved (Toni Morrison), A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess), The Firm (John Grisham) and the eponymous Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier). Among other authors whose work is examined are Henry James, Evelyn Waugh, Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, James Ballard, Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene, Thomas Pynchon, PD James, Kazuo Ishiguro, AS Bryant, David Morrell, and Malcolm Bradbury. Even a nominally non-fiction work is included: Future Shock (by Alvin Toffler), although as Sutherland notes, in some ways that work turned out to be laughably fictional.

The puzzles and conundrums are odd little tidbits of a kind that might be especially noticeable to pedants and sharp-eyed literalists. Here's an example. In "Lord of the Flies", the boys steal Piggy's glasses to start a fire by focusing the sun's rays; in fact, however, eyeglass lenses would be useless for such a task, as they defocus rather than focus. In considering the puzzle, Sutherland also explores various other puzzles and improbabilities raised by the book (such as the location of the boy's island), some of which have been explored by previous commentators. Another mystery is the age of Morrison's "Beloved" -- purposely ambiguous and "both child and adult". Then, in Chandler's "the Big Sleep", there's the mystery of who kills the chauffeur Owen Taylor. The director and screenwriters of the movie telegrammed the question to Chandler, who replied "NO IDEA". Sutherland shows that Chandler was being cagy; his careful reading of the book reveals a likely answer. As for "Where was Rebecca Shot", Sutherland explores multiple mysteries, including who sets fire to Manderley. His peculiar answer? Rebecca!

I found this work entertaining; however, the particular conundrums and mysteries were commonly of trivial import. Still, this is a work likely to appeal to those bibliophiles for whom fictional works have a reality that transcends mere ink on pages. ( )
1 vote danielx | Nov 28, 2019 |
Another collection of puzzling things in fiction, this time focusing on 20th century novels. There's an entertaining chapter at the end with comments from authors and editors responding to some elements of the puzzles. ( )
  mari_reads | Mar 30, 2012 |
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This is a literary criticism of 20th-century fiction, detailing puzzles, conundrums and anomalies in our favourite works and most revered narratives, from high literature to pulp fiction.

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