Thursday, 10 August 2000

Jane Langton: God in Concord (1992)

Edition: Penguin, 1993
Review number: 571

God in Concord is a detective novel about two things I find difficult to understand. The story is about an attempt to build a new development in Concord, Mass., threatening the Walden Pond which inspired Thoreau. I personally find it difficult to get excited about any heritage less than two hundred years old - I was amazed to find a Canadian cousin of mine just as excited about the Victorian terraces which can be seen from the walls of Lincoln castle as by the castle itself. The pond itself might be worth saving from an ecological point of view, though it sounds unpleasantly neglected, but the Thoreau connection seems particularly unimportant. The pond is no longer what it was when Thoreau saw it, which means that without a restoration programme, the literary reference is meaningless. The second thing I don't really understand is why some people revere Thoreau to such an extent. Yes, he could put words together, and he was in part the inspiration of Gandhi's civil disobedience campaign, but the majority of the thoughts expressed in his writing seem to me to be banal.

Nevertheless, an emotional attachment to the pond certainly exists for some of the residents of Concord, while against it stands the developer's desire to make money. The developer is willing to use almost any method to gain permission to build, and so a somewhat stereotypical clash is inevitable. Unusually for the genre, the truth of what is going on comes to light in the course of events, rather than being deduced in a masterly fashion by the sleuth. All the Homer Kelly mysteries seem to be like this to some extent, and this makes them nice and gentle. God in Concord is perhaps a little to comfortable, but this perception may be partly due to my antipathy towards Thoreau.

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