I was inspired to take down my Dorothy Dunnett books when I read Susan Condon’s recent blog post about re-reading. Dunnett (1923-2001) has written two brilliant historical series, one set in the sixteenth century, the Francis Crawford of Lymond series (1961-1975) and the House of Niccolò series (1986-2000), which takes place roughly a century earlier. In between times, she has also written the Johnson Johnson series of mystery novels and the book that Dunnett considers her masterpiece, King Hereafter (1982).
A school friend, who gave me a copy of Checkmate (paperback 1976) for my birthday one year, unintentionally began my subsequent relationship with Dunnett’s books. My friend Julie bought me the book, knowing that I liked historical fiction, yet not realising that it was the final part of the Lymond series. I did actually read Checkmate before, rather perversely, going back to the beginning with The Game of Kings (1961). I gradually built up the rest of the Lymond saga, acquiring a couple as I recall from a second-hand bookshop in Cardiff.
But here I have to make the shameful confession that I never actually (for various complicated reasons) finished reading the Niccolò series. The last two volumes, Caprice and Rondo and Gemini languish unread on my shelves to this very hour. I have long promised myself a truly mammoth Niccolò binge; ideally this would mean returning to the beginning and starting all over again. I think however, for present practical purposes I will have to content myself merely with backtracking as far as To Lie with Lions and going on from there. Technically these books do not come under the remit of the Landing blog, as they live in our bedroom, but I may give myself dispensation on that point (after all all’s fair in love and reading). And it would be wonderful to return to that world for a summer break from the twenty-first century.
Because of mentioning my idea of returning to them this summer, I discovered via Twitter that a Dorothy Dunnett Society exists which publishes a newsletter called Whispering Gallery for members. The society is actually a registered charity under Scottish law, founded in 2001 by Dorothy Dunnett. The society aims to promote interest and research into the periods she wrote about and to support the cataloguing and preservation of her papers and research materials, which Dunnett bequeathed to the National Library of Scotland:
“•advance the education of the public concerning the history, politics, culture and religion of the 11th, 15th and 16th centuries by promoting the study of and research into such subjects generally and into such subjects particularly as they relate to the works of Dorothy Dunnett, and to disseminate to the public the results of such research.
•foster the appreciation and recognition of the literary works of Dorothy Dunnett.
•ensure that the manuscripts, letters, reference materials and research papers of Dorothy Dunnett are preserved and are accessible.”
It is incredible to realise just how many Dunnett fans are out there. To finish up with here is a a testimonial from a Dorothy fan. I came across this short clip about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series on YouTube, which was recorded in a bookstore in the States. The interviewee, Anna Kaufman, also discusses another Dorothy, the crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, whom I may well feature on the Landing in the future. There is also an excellent interview with Dorothy Dunnett on the Society’s website, recorded in 1989 for Off the Page.
Now, I must just go and plan the summer’s reading. What will you be reading (or re-reading) this summer?
Video credit: Uploaded to YouTube 24 March 2010
Anna Kaufman, Diesel Bookstore, Brentwood
Logo: taken from the Dorothy Dunnett site
Photo: from Amazon (for technical reasons: camera not charged!)
On final, final note I have come across The Idle Woman’s Literary blog who is also a great Dorothy Dunnett fan if you want to read up a bit. But watch out for unintended spoilers.