What I’ve been reading – An Unsuitable Job For A Woman by P.D. James

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Cordelia Gray, #1)An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve always found James’ work moderately clever, but overrated. There’s a nasty distant, critical view of human nature that leaves me with a manky taste in my mouth. I mean to say – Jeeves – I can understand having a low opinion of your fellow creatures, but OTOH, who of us is without sin and you gotta love the little bastards anyway. Love ’em into insensibility. How are any of us getting any better otherwise? If we go down into the grave, each one of us, still slavering and frothing and hungering for destruction, then – well, then we’re all Donald Trump. We can do better than that.


Since I’ve marked this as spoilerish, I can freely say that Cordelia’s girlish, ‘secret’ crush on a geezer old enough to be her granda – and a geezer every bit as charmlessly sour as James herself seems – makes me urp and heave. Mentally I have a picture of her ‘artlessly’ clasping her hands to her chest as she swoons like Dorothy out of Oz, and it’s not charming and delightful. Lemme mis-quote Mary Karr: sometimes I pine for a sidearm.

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15 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading – An Unsuitable Job For A Woman by P.D. James

      1. That’s it. Write me a character I love to bits, and I’ll never stop buying the books in a series. The pleasure of feeling snootily superior to a book’s characters is minimal, and diminishes over time even so.

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    1. She didn’t seem like a happy bunny. I was going to write that, having been a nurse, perhaps she’d been understandably soured due to constantly seeing the grimmer side of life. Except, on checking her Wikipedia entry, I see I was mistaken and although she worked in hospital admin she was never a nurse. However, reading it, she clearly did have rather a hard life and I now feel a bit bad for slagging her off. Still don’t care for the books, though.

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  1. I’ve always found James’s books kind of cold and improbable and overrated. It’s nice to hear from someone else who does. Two things, though:

    1. I heard her read once and in response to I can’t remember what question she told a story on herself: She’d once had a character back a motorcycle down an alley. I’m not sure how long it was before she realized you can’t back a motorcycle, but I think it was post-publication. The copy editor must’ve been asleep. For having the guts and sense of humor to do that, I can forgive her a lot.

    2. I want to defend disagreeable characters. Not because I like spending time with them, but–oh, okay, because I wrote one (and yes, she was the central character) and got a fair amount of shit for it. The thing is, though, that she was a talk-show host doing all sorts of politically irresponsible things initially because they were fun and later because they took here where she wanted to go.

    I didn’t find her completely unlikeable. I didn’t like what she did, but she had an energy and wiseass approach to the world that drew me in. But a warm and wonderful character she wasn’t. The point is that to tell some stories we have to be open to unlikeable characters. It was a story about American politics today (although I wrote it well before today). I couldn’t have told it through a more likeable character.

    Having said all that, there’s no arguing a reader out of his or her response.

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    1. Oh, the motorcycle story makes me wince. It’s amazing how far ‘write what you know’ extends into the most mundane workaday things and procedures. Everybody has some lacunae in their understanding of how the world works: but only a writer gets so publicly tripped up by it.

      Actually it’s hilarious to think how that would look in a movie: Mr Bean should try it, holding on for dear life and squealing.

      Re: disagreeable characters, maybe it depends what you call disagreeable. I’ve had an affection for a number of moderately twatty individuals, both fictional and RL. Who amongst us IS without sin? I think – maybe – it’s the feeling that James specifically writes characters in order to despise them, to feel superior. Not really down with that. I’m not saying some folks aren’t despicable, pitiable or appalling: but if you can’t understand what Marcus Aurelius meant by ‘nothing human is alien to me’ then your writing suffers as well as your humanity.

      You liked your shock-jock talkshow host, right? Or at least, you could look through her eyes, see what was good or interesting or just human about her. I don’t get that feeling with James. I feel like she enjoys her disdain. I could be wrong.

      *ambles round net a little, fact-checking* Damn it! Terence, not M.A.? This autodidact thing is totally overrated. I’ve been tossing off that line with a casual brio and attributing it with unfounded confidence for decades now! /steals off to erase a few bits and bytes.

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      1. When I was working as an editor (and when I taught writing) I heard the “kill your darlings” line attributed to at least 5 different writers. I’ve pretty much given up trying to attribute quotes to anyone–I just quote and admit I don’t know who I’m quoting. Work with your ignorance, I say (sometimes).

        I don’t so much pick up disdain from James (although I wouldn’t argue with you about it being there) as coldness–a lack of empathy with and a lack of life in the characters. Forgive me if I sound vain, but I do think my talk show host had some life to her. So, for me at least, you’ve introduced a useful distinction.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like to trawl through all the quotes attributed to Einstein and Shakespeare on Twitter sometimes. I’m just a little bit sceptical about some of them, especially the ones that sound like a 7 year old girl with a Mummy who’s a life-coach…

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