Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Arlen's new novel is A Death by Any Other Name, the third book in her Lady Montfort mystery series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have recently finished writing a historical fiction of Diana Manners early life during the First World War where every single one of her group of male friends was killed. How on earth would one manage to come through that sort of experience in one early twenties? Was the question I asked myself over and over as I researched and wrote this novel. Among the many great books I read about this time, re-reading Robert Graves’ autobiography Goodbye To All That was pure joy if the word joy should be used in connection to the catastrophe of the Great War.

I first read Graves’ memoir of the war many years ago at school and detested it! My only regret this time around was that it is impossible to find a copy of the original book that Graves wrote in 1929 –when he managed to alienate many friends and upset most of England by his candid and unsentimental account of his war. I had to make do with the 1957 edition when Graves returned to the original and re-wrote much of it with what he called the clear-sightedness of hindsight. Graves admitted that it took him ten years to fully recover both mentally and physically from the war and his re-write, like my re-read was tempered by the benefit of more mature years!

Good-Bye to All That is Graves’ farewell not only to England and his English family and friends, but also to a way of life. Tracing his upbringing from his solidly middle-class Victorian childhood through his entry into the war at age twenty-one as a patriotic captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was a fascinating, poignant, often wry autobiography depicting the horrors and disillusionment of the Great War, from life in the trenches and the loss of dear friends, to the stupidity of government bureaucracy and the absurdity of English class stratification.

I have always been a huge Graves fan – I Claudius and Claudius the God are two of my most loved accounts of Roman history as is Graves’s translation of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars. Graves’ ability to portray the endearingly human is often laughably honest and all the vanity, excesses, jealousies and self-disillusionment of our mortal frailties is apparent in his memoir of the war.

He was particularly concerned with what he considered to be the problem with truthfulness. In the introduction to the 1957 edition he concluded:
The memoirs of a man who went through some of the worst experiences of trench-warfare are not truthful if they do not contain a high proportion of falsities. High explosive barrages will make a temporary liar or visionary of anyone; the old trench-mind is at work in all overestimation of casualties, “unnecessary” dwelling on horrors, mixing of dates and confusion between trench rumors and scene actually witnessed.
As a fiction writer I am particularly grateful for Graves’s falsities they only serve to give us a greater human perspective as he peels away literary poesy and gets down to what it’s really all about in his clear, conversational voice and his rather confrontational style.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: A Death by Any Other Name.

--Marshal Zeringue