Wednesday 18 April 2012

Time For Tey?


I am halfway through the set of eight Josephine Tey books which I recently purchased from The Book People. I have read The Franchise Affair, Brat Farrar, The Man in the Queue, and Miss Pym Disposes. Bob is reading them as well –which explains why I am not working through in the order in which JT wrote them.[one of the delights of being at Cornerstones is plenty of time for uninterrupted reading!]

franchiseWe have both reached similar conclusions – namely that the books feel very ‘dated’ and would not be easy to make into films nowadays. They were written between 1929 and 1952 – some in the inter-war years and then some more after WW2. Somehow they are ‘modern’ – there are cars and telephones, women have the vote, and some emancipation – but yet they are strangely ‘quaint’.

I think younger readers would struggle with the idea of no computers, or TVs [just radio], and no supermarkets [but there is the grocer, and the butcher’s boy on a bicycle]

The Franchise Affair, is set in the small town of Milford. Tey says of Milford High Street that

“the scarlet and gold of an American bazaar flaunted its promise down at the south end”

and middle aged readers like me know she means


…but those under thirty might infer this instead…


I consider that my vocabulary is pretty good – but JT’s wordy prose meant I was frequently checking the dictionary. Words like halidom, haemostosis, belle-laide, and Johannisberger were not familiar to me! [Are they known to you? and that’s haemastOsis, not ‘stAsis’ !]


Brat Farrar was almost credible, but I found myself getting a little annoyed with the contrivances of the plot. Similarly The Man In The Queue.

But I have to say that Miss Pym Disposes was the most …er …unusual of the four Tey-Tomes I have tackled thus far.

It is set in a Women’s College, where females are trained to be Physical Training Instructors.

I found it bizarre because there is an almost complete absence of sex. The girls are very earnest, worthy – and young for their age.

miss-pym-disposesNow please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying I wanted this book to be full of ‘affairs of the heart’ or descriptions of people caught in the throes of physical passion – but surely the conversations in a college full of girls in their early twenties would include discussion of romance as well as of their anatomy lectures? Maybe I am just incredibly naive, and have missed something?

man in the QMiss Pym was reviewed by the Norfolk Library Services last year [here] – but the reviewer fails to point out that you have to wade through three quarters of the book to get to the ‘nasty accident’

That all sounds quite negative. There were some passages in these four books which I really enjoyed – clever description, Tey’s understanding of human emotions, unexpected ‘twists in the tale’

…so I shall persevere and read the other four in the set.

Does anyone else out there have time for Tey?


  1. I was hoping Miss Pym would be somewhere in the Barbara field- no? And i would confess that I wasn't sure that macdo would have been around in the stated time frame! I'm about to finish Cold Comfort Farm which is also very of its time but priceless nonetheless!

  2. Ooh! I love CCF [there is no butter in hell!!] and we recently watched the TV version with Rufus Sewell, S Fry, J Lumley et al

  3. You make it sound like I would (and I was crazy about Bratt Farrar in the 1980s TV serilisation). I'm really enjoying the Miss Silver books which are similarly dated, but of course I am kind of into all that.

  4. I never thought about the books as being dated, but that may be because I love the "Golden Age" of detective literature which falls roughly into the same period - so reading anything written from the 1920s to the 50s feels comfortable and right.

    I shall have to check out some of Miss Tey's works from the library and re-read them.

    Isn't Johannisberger a wine? (I learned that one from a Lord Peter Wimsey short story.) And belle-laide makes me think of jolie-laide (another highly evocative but untranslatable French phrase), and probably means much the same thing. The other words I don't know.

    Michael Innes is another author whose vocabulary I find refreshingly challenging.

    I'll be interested to hear what you think of "The Daughter of Time".

  5. I liked The Daughter of Time but Bratt Farrar was too much of a stretch.

    1. Really struggling with 'To Love and Be Wise' now- may stop that and read Daughter of Time instead!!


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