Trick or Treat, Kerry Greenwood

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Reading other bloggers introduces me not just to books I haven’t read, which of course it does all the time, and to books I might never read, but to whole classes of literature I haven’t previously considered. Two of the latter are ‘Gin Lit’ and ‘Fat Lit’.

Gin Lit if you haven’t run in to it yet, is the invention of Kate W at booksaremyfavouriteandbest and of course is the set of books in which gin is drunk. If it isn’t a thing yet then it should be. But if Gin Lit is just a fun concept, the motivation for seeking out Fat Lit is more serious. Melanie at Grab the Lapels offers the following:

This book [13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad] is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.

This is a game I don’t have much skin in. Firstly, I’m not a women, and then, like a lot of older people, if I say I’m fat it’s mostly because I worry (obsess) about my weight – speaking American, I’m 5 foot 10 and 200 lbs. I’ve been a vegetarian and a competitive swimmer for more than 25 years, but my weight keeps drifting up.

A few weeks ago I listened to a book called Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich (the author’s name is an interesting conflation of popular author Linda Evanovich and her most famous creation, Stephanie Plum, but if there is a connection I couldn’t see it) in which a youngish obese woman is brought back to merely large by a handsome personal trainer, with whom she of course falls in love. The author treats fatness sympathetically but I thought the emphasis on training and diet probably excluded it from falling within Melanie’s criteria.

But one series which I thought might, was Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delight books ‘featuring Corinna Chapman, baker and reluctant investigator’. Truck drivers are big fans of Greenwood and we have all listened to all the Phryne Fisher mysteries, or at least as many as are out on Bolinda Books. A long time ago I listened to a book of short stories with an Introduction by Greenwood in which she was explicit about wishing to provide women with strong heroines who could perform great deeds without relying on men, and I should have included her in my dissertation on the Independent Woman, but I didn’t and now I can’t find the book.

Once I ran out of Phryne Fishers I listened to a few of the Earthly Delight’s series, though not with as much pleasure, Corinna is a bit too lovey-dovey for me. Corinna Chapman – Earthly Delights is the name of her inner-Melbourne bakery – isn’t independent in the way that Phryne Fisher is, she has a permanent good looking lover Daniel, who may or may not be an operative with Mossad. However, I remember her as large and plain and so thought I would borrow the paper version of Trick or Treat (2007) to review in the context of this new (to me) literary category.

I am sure we all picture and (mis-)remember characters differently both from each other and from the author’s intention. In the end I’m not sure that the big woman I remember is the Corinna Greenwood intends, and in this book Corinna barely describes herself at all. Here she is eating baklava:

We sipped and munched and I tried not to drip onto my nice shirt, and did not succeed. Yanni watched me with a grin.

‘A good woman is one who enjoys her food,’ he said. ‘The generous type. I always liked them generous…’

And here she thinks she is competing for Daniel’s attentions:

Georgie shed her high heels and draped herself over the sofa, long legs and short skirt. She was very beautiful. I sat next to her like a lump. Of what, I had not decided. Granite, perhaps? Or maybe just jelly. Envious jelly.

When Daniel, later, asks, “Surely you weren’t really worried that I might want George rather than you?” she replies:

‘No, why should I think that? … Just because I’m short and fat and dumpy and mousy, and she is tall and gorgeous with baby blue eyes and blonde ringlets?”

The plot of Trick or Treat is a mystery. Or a series of mysteries. In the beginning I wasn’t sure there was a plot. Earthly Delights bakery occupies the ground floor of an apartment building off Flinders Lane in the Melbourne CBD. Corinna occupies one of the apartments above and the other occupants of the building include a witch, some old people, a couple of gay men and so on. Corinna eats, and she eats a lot, at the Jewish delicatessen or the Greek restaurant nearby or with the other tenants in their rooftop garden.

In the back lane behind the bakery strange singing is heard from time to time; young men have to be taken away suffering delusions; these delusions (and the singing) may stem from a bad batch of LSD or may be connected to a convention of witches. Meanwhile, Daniel is on the path of treasure stolen from Jews by a Nazi commander in Greece; some of this treasure turns up in the possession of the ‘King of the Witches’. Daniel does most of the legwork; Corinna, eventually, makes all the connections; we meet lots of colourful characters; and most importantly the gorgeous Georgie is vanquished.

Corinna loves food, but she doesn’t mind a drink either. Here the two Lits coincide (‘intersect’ in set theory), as they do off and on throughout, “[I] poured myself a drink. When a certain tall, dark and gorgeous man appeared, walking like a cat, my pleasure was complete. Daniel and gin and tonic. Wonderful.

 

Kerry Greenwood, Trick or Treat, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2007

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12 thoughts on “Trick or Treat, Kerry Greenwood

  1. Hmmm, I think this book would be problematic because the character always humiliates herself in thought and voice, which reinforces the concept that fat is bad. It’s interesting that you point out that you’re an older gentleman; our bodies change sizes depending on our ages because they’re meant to do different things. A lot of young women in college fret that they’ve put on weight, but around college-age women are SUPPOSED to put on a soft layer of fat to prepare for motherhood. This is different than an alarming weight gain, but it still makes young women depressed and feel hopeless. Once we get around 60, we’re supposed to eat a whole lot less because our bodies aren’t doing anything related to childbirth/rearing. Basically, the older you are, the less your body needs to do to maintain itself. I think it’s all very interesting!

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    • I’m surrounded by daughters and sisters in law who struggle to adjust to whatever weight they are at a given time, as I do!, so this is an ongoing issue. I think of Corinna as being accepting of her appearance, but as you have picked up (and I didn’t realise) the quotes I chose indicate otherwise. Still, I hope one day you get a Greenwood as an ebook and give it a try.

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  2. It occurs to me that maybe Olive Kitteridge is fat since she is ‘solid’, but since I wasn’t “looking for representations” I don’t really know and it would kill the story for me to go back and look.
    And that makes me think: if the reading is for the purpose of finding representations of something (whatever), does that kill the reading if the representation turns out not to be there? The book gets chucked across the room if there’s nobody ‘fat’ (or whatever) in it? Or the reader gets all the way through the book very pleased with the positive or at least neutral representation only to find at the end that the representative messes it up and fails the criteria? (e.g. falls in love and compounds the error by dieting to get into a wedding dress.) *chuckle* This quandary makes me feel rather relieved that I’m reading just for fun…

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    • I think we have lots of ‘purposes’ for reading books, and if we can categorise them afterwards then that helps us recommend them, or not. After all, I think we are happy to be judgemental about treatments of colour, so I can see why others might apply the same standards to size, or for that matter to disability or different sexualities.

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      • Ah yes, I agree, and of course I used to do this myself as a teacher-librarian (for example, looking in picture books for female central characters #NotPrincesses, #NotWearingPink, #NotAlwaysAnglo, not as easy to find as you might think) but your post has made me think about the effect of those purposes on the actual reading of the book, not the afterwards.

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  3. I saw GTL’S Fat Lit post and had nothing to add but for some reason your Kerry Greenwood post suddenly rem index me of the perfect fat lit character, the traditionally built Precious Ramotswe,

    BTW I love that truck drivers are a fan of Phryne Fisher. I’d love to see a post on what truck drivers love to listen to. I hadn’t thought much about it before but of course audio books must be the best thing for truck drivers who love stories.

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    • Melanie at GTL would reject Precious on the grounds of the non-femaleness of her creator, but it’s an interesting project don’t you think?
      I wrote a very early post called The Truckers’ Library and at one stage even before that I had my mates answering a questionnaire about their reading, but I never followed through with it. Over here in WA we are often between radio stations for quite long periods. Even the 2 or 3 biggest ABC AM stations don’t reach more than about 400 km during the day, and the FM stations only 10-20 km, while the distance between towns is 100-500 km so audio books are not only perfect but essential. Unfortunately the most popular writers are Robt G Barrett and Matthew Reilly both of whom I go out of my way to avoid.

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      • Oh of course, I forgot that requirement.

        I must read that post. Maybe I read it at the time and have forgotten, or maybe not!

        Ah yes, I did think about radio but just thought it would get tiresome after a while. I rather expected that the main fare of interest alto be more exciting stuff. You should do something (which three words I had to fix because my iPad put “aphid do singsong” – what would you have made of that if I hadn’t caught it!?) with that truckie questionnaire.

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