No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015/23: The Night Life of the Gods -- Thorne Smith

...she could flirt with Perseus or Apollo, but, after all, she was not really interested in them. They were the sort that appealed to the ordinary run of women. They were great big beautiful boys with hearts of gold and all that. Her long-legged scientist was different. He was homely and nervous and refreshingly bitter about things in general. [loc. 2769]

Prohibition America. Hunter Hawk, a wealthy and eccentric inventor, develops a ring which can turn people to stone -- and bring statues to life. Quickly petrifying his obnoxious relatives (though he spares his niece Daphne, whose sardonic humour is a good foil for his own).

One drunken moonlit evening Hawk encounters a leprechaun, and more to the point the leprechaun's charming 900-year-old daughter, Megaera (Meg for short). Hunter Hawk, of whom his housekeeper says 'He's not ruined a maid since I've kept house for him, and that's been all of his life. He's been a great disappointment to me in that direction' belatedly discovers Love. He and Meg head to New York City, pay a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and bring a whole pantheon of Greek deities to life. With, as the Radio Times used to say, hilarious consequences. The Olympians 'put their whole life into whatever they chanced to be doing', and their zest for the modern world is charming and infectious.

The Night Life of the Gods has humour in abundance, much of it involving alcohol, disregard for social and legal mores, and the joys of liberty. What it lacked, for me, was depth. Sure, everyone has fun; everyone drinks a lot; everyone escapes the confines of their mundane (or, indeed, monolithic) existences. The characters muse, from time to time, on the nature of sin or the chains of paid labour. (They do not, as far as I recall, discuss the morality of Hawk's petrification of his relatives, or of some inconvenient law enforcement officials.) It's a carefree novel, and surprisingly modern in some respects (Smith's female characters are independent and opinionated -- though there is more than a whiff of racism in a couple of scenes) but I suspect it was much more fun to read when it was first published in 1931.

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