Sunday Salon: On Mourning an Author

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What would you do to assuage your grief if a favorite author died (unexpectedly, at least to you), and her last novel in a beloved series featured a cliffhanger ending?

Diana Norman, who (as Ariana Franklin) wrote medieval mysteries featuring a rare female autopsist who is sent to England by the King of Sicily to help Henry II deal with various forensic crises, has died, alas, and it isn't clear whether her Mistress of the Art of Death series will ever be finished.  I feel a bit queasy about one thing: is the horrifying sadness I feel actually about the author or about her characters?

(I want to object, by the by, in the most strenuous fashion, to the headline and first sentence of her obituary, on the grounds of feminism, literary respect, grammar, and personal dignity.  No one should be identified in death primarily in relationship to someone else, especially a spouse.  This is particularly irksome because Norman/Franklin wrote feminist historical fiction, and her heroine firmly believes that marriage isn't worth the sacrifice of her calling that it would entail.)

Further complication: I am one book behind in the series, and the last book that I read ends in a moment of at least partial resolution for a longstanding romance but also in personal sacrifice for both of the characters.  Should I read the last book, suspecting that it will take me from a readerly position of partially discontented closure  to one of terrible uncertainty about the characters' futures?

This is actually a problem for another day - right now I am going into my twelfth hour in the office since 5 p.m. yesterday (that's right - I spent all Saturday night at the office.  I'm the life of the party.), and won't be getting much reading done in the near future besides Beckett and Shakespeare (which I'm teaching this week), and Lady Audley's Secret (which I am leading a discussion about in book group on Tuesday night.  Only 330 pages to go between now and then!).  Apart from that, it's just me and Mt. Grademore this fine Sunday evening....