Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Guy Fawkes - Bonfire Night Special

the book: The Religious Body by Catherine Aird

published 1966




The fire was over on their right, away from the Institute’s buildings. It was well alight, with flames leaping high into the air. Standing round it like a votive circle were the students. Their faces stood out in a white ring in the darkness, the dancing flames reflected in them.

Sloan burst from the car and ran over to the fire brigade.

“I want that fire out” he shouted. “Quickly.”

“Blimey,” said a Leading Fireman. “It’s only a bonfire.”

“I know it is” snapped Sloan, “but I want it out before the guy is burnt. This is a police matter, so look sharp. I want that guy in one piece whatever happens.”…

The fire brigade were running their hoses toward the fire, lacing them in and out of the spectators. The boys divided their attention between them and the fire. The latter was of magnificent proportions now, the flames licking their way to the figure lashed to the top.

There was a sigh from the crowd as the first flame lapped round the feet of the guy.






observations: The guy is dressed in a nun’s habit belonging to a nearby convent where a nun has been murdered - which is a pretty unusual plot turn. We first featured this book a while back – nuns, and a hat-tip to Margot Kinberg & her Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog. This time it’s seasonal: the bonfire is at an Agricultural Institute, and the students are known for their tricks, and their particularly dangerous activities around 5th November, Bonfire or Guy Fawkes night in the UK. In fact some of them broke into the convent to get the habit – did they perhaps see something important? And does someone have a special interest in getting the habit destroyed?

There’s a very excellent Irish nun at the convent, who is very anti-police because of her background (her comments and dislike form a running joke), and she refers to the young men of the Agricultural Institute as ‘young limbs of Satan.’ The contrast between the two institutions – male and female, educational and religious – is nicely done.

The investigating policeman, Denis Sloan (he is an unusual fictional policeman in being happily married) discusses with his wife what would make a young woman go into a convent. They are doubtful about the idea of a real vocation, they run through many more possibilities: being lonely, or jilted, needing escape, running away from life, not facing up to things. Rather negative ideas. But overall this is a very positive look at convents, if perhaps not one offering much understanding of a religious calling.

Back in June, we looked at a Celia Fremlin novel, The Trouble-Makers, and there is a great description of a back-garden bonfire & firework party in that – this was very common in the 1960s, though now most people would go to (much safer) communal and municipal firework displays.

The rather fabulous bonfire photo is from the Oregon State University special collection, and would have been hand-coloured. The other picture is from the LSE Library and shows effigies being taken round the streets of London before Guy Fawkes day.

There was a Guy Fawkes entry on the blog back in 2012, with this wonderful picture: 


18 comments:

  1. Maybe it's post birthday blues or maybe I'm just a miserable old git - Bonfire Night is something I enjoy about as much as Halloween. ie I don't. We did go through the motions when the kids were younger but I always found it a chore rather than a pleasure.

    Not feeling the book either I'm afraid - lob my copy on the bonfire! (Nah - second thoughts, I don't advocate book burning, so pass it on to a good home!)

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    1. I think I feel kindly towards these two festivals because of how much the children loved them, so perhaps it takes people different ways. Where I live there is a big public display every year, raises a ton of money for charity.... you take your children when they are little, and then you know they are grown-up when one year they say 'some people from school are all going together, do you think...?' I wouldn't be remotely interested in going myself now, but I still like the idea.

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  2. Moira - Thanks so much for the kind mention. I do like Sloan's character, both in this novel and in the series. And the look at Bonfire Night is really interesting. I think what I really liked about this novel was the fact that Aird portrayed the nuns as humans - as people with pasts, personalities and the like. To me that refreshing.

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    1. Yes, excellent point Margot, they are people just like the rest of us. Catherine Aird is, in her quiet way, a very good writer.

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  3. Moira, this sounds like an interesting story of a historical event that has always fascinated me. I have always read about it in nonfiction, never in fiction. Britain has had some colourful characters in its history.

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    1. It's always so interesting to hear about other country's festivities, isn't it? I really enjoyed reading about Diwali on your own blog recently.

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    2. It is, Moira, thank you. Diwali is noisy and colourful and unlike in the West anyone can light firecrackers anywhere in India, even in the middle of the road. October-January is wedding season which means more firecrackers usually just before the groom or bride enter the venue.

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    3. My head is saying this might be dangerous, care would be needed. My heart is saying, what a great way to celebrate a wedding!

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  4. It has been a while since I read The Religious Body, and I remember nothing about it except the murder weapon -- and that I liked it a lot. I do want to move on to more books by Catherine Aird. The next one I have in line has a wonderful skull on the cover.

    The Jane Haddam book Quoth the Raven has a bonfire but it is for Halloween. I had thought I might re-read that one in October this year, but did not get to it. Maybe next year.

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    1. I'd like to read more Aird too. I really love the Jane Haddam books, but can never remember anything about them afterwards - I'll get Quoth the Raven out again and have a look!

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  5. Moira: Not many big bonfires in Saskatchewan. Most years we are dry land worrying about grass fires in the spring and forest fires to the north during the summer. I cannot recall any celebrations regularly celebrated in the province which feature bonfires.

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    1. What about fireworks, Bill? I think from reading Gail Bowen you might have displays on Canada Day, as the USA does on Independence Day?

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    2. Moira: Organized fireworks are set off in most communities on Canada Day. There are relatively few individual fireworks. In Melfort there are fireworks on the last night of the annual Fair in late July. I love fireworks.

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    3. Individual displays very uncommon in the UK now, though when I was a child everyone had them. I know it's safer this way, but the parties in the garden were fun.

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  6. A Catherine Aird book recommended -- good! I loved "Henrietta Who?" which I read during the summer, having learned about it also from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. I liked the humor.

    I will look for this book. I think for centuries that women who didn't have marriage possibilities or enough family wealth to sustain them went into convents.

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    1. Yes do try this one, Kathy, you might like it, and yes I think we discussed that whole issue of women in convents over a different book some time recently...

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  7. I wonder what are the motivations for young women joining convents today -- in the U.S. and around the world. In poor countries, economic security may still be a reason or a desire to help people.

    In the U.S., there is a large grouping of socially conscious nuns who do help poor people and are good on social issues. The Vatican has sent bishops over here to try to stop them, and summed the leaders to Rome. But they haven't been silenced. And they have tremendous support here.

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    1. Yes I have read about those issues, and have always admired nuns who do great work amongst the needy, and also any nuns who stand up against the most patriarchal bits of the Catholic church.

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