If Swallows and Amazons is a great book to be reading while the brain is a bit confuzzled, then Blood on the Dining-Room Floor (1948) probably isn’t. But it came to mind the other day when Dorothy Richardson was mentioned – simply because I’d mixed up who wrote it – but by then I’d pulled it off the shelf, and the fab Picasso cover, combined with the book’s brevity, meant I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Every great writer has, I imagine, been called a fraud – and many frauds have been called great writers. Which is Gertrude Stein? I haven’t read anything else by her, and the introduction to this edition more or less says that Blood on the Dining-Room Floor wasn’t a success, but I spent the whole time thinking ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. But then I thought… there are plenty of people who say that about Virginia Woolf’s fiction, which I think is sublimely brilliant – so it’s just as likely that this novella is brilliant and I simply don’t get it. Here’s a sample sentence:
A little come they which they can they will they can be married to a man, a young enough man an old man and a young enough man.
Well, sure, Gertrude, why not? Not all the novella is that obfuscatory, but it’s also far from unique in the narrative. In theory, I’m not anti experimental writing – but as I get further and further from my undergraduate days, my tolerance for unconventional grammar and deliberately cloaked meaning gets lower and lower.
And what’s it about? Well, the writer of the blurb optimistically calls Blood on the Dining-Room Floor a detective novel, but since it’s more or less impossible to work out who any of the characters are, up to and including the person whose blood is on the dining-room floor (a more prominent death in the book is the maybe-sleepwalker who fell out a window), then it can only be called a detective novel in the loosest sense conceivable.
An interesting experiment to read, and it’s always possible that my cold-ridden delirium played its part, but… I can’t call myself a Stein fan as of yet. Anybody read this, or any of Stein’s more famous work? Could I be yet persuaded?