Thursday, March 24, 2005

Oregon notes Elizabeth George for Women's History Month

Oregon: Elizabeth George is an American novelist who has written a string of best selling novels, beginning with her first published work, A Great Deliverance, in1988. That work introduced her primary characters,Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, two New ScotlandYard Detectives from vastly different backgrounds.

Elizabeth George herself was born in Ohio and moved to California before she was two years old. As an adult, she spent thirteen years as a High School English teacher, losing her first teaching job along with several other teachers for her involvement in union activity. The courts ultimately ordered that George and her fellow teachers be re-hired, but she had at that point moved on to another teaching position, where she would remain for over a decade and later win a Teacher of the Year Award.

While George was teaching during the school year, she spent her summers first in getting a second degree, in psychology, and later in beginning to follow her lifelong dream to write.

She left the time consuming job with the high school after a publisher bought A Great Deliverance, but she continued teaching at the Community College level for several more years before her work as a novelist became her primary focus.

Despite being an American, Elizabeth George has been credited with being a modern master of the English Mystery novel and has won some of mystery writing's top prizes, including the Agatha, the Anthony, France's Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere and Germany's MIMI. George's novels go far beyond the traditional English mystery novel, however. Her writing is intensely character driven and each work tends to be more a masterful psychological glance into the actions of a collected group of people than just a traditional 'Who Done It' tale.

She's got an incredible talent for making each character come alive as a fully unique individual within the story, even if they're only appearing in the book long enough to advance the action in one scene.

Her handful of recurring characters have become enormously popular and beloved precisely because they're characters as flawed as any human being, but who at the same time grow and change from book to book as their lives move forward.

Unlike, for example, Agatha Christie's lead detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, these characters do not remain identical from book to book, stuck in one place throughout their literary lives. It was once estimated that Christie's Poirot, who was first written as a man in his 60's in the 1920's, would have been well over 120 years old by the time of his last literary appearance in the 1970's.

Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers' personal lives have already changed enormously since their first appearance in 1988, and that's the beauty of George's characters. We pick up the next novel not just for a great character driven story, but to see what is happening in the lives of characters who quickly have become old friends.

Elizabeth George also departs from the 'traditional' English novel in another way. Her novels do not give us a stereotypical view of England, but instead an incredibly true to life picture of a modern England that is a melting pot of clashing cultures and classes.

Thomas Lynley is an Earl with an ancestral estate tucked away in Cornwall, while Barbara Havers is a working class woman from London. George doesn't just give the characters these roles in life and back away from what they mean. Instead, she takes on the British Class system through these two characters, their family relationships, and their working relationship and friendship with each other as it evolves in book after book.

Being true to the modern world, George has created recurring characters of Pakistani and Jamaican heritage who reflect the UK's ever changing society.

One novel, Deception on His Mind, centered around the clash between the British Arab culture and the more traditional British society surrounding it. Several of her novels have also featured gay or lesbian characters or relationships to some degree or another.

George has set her novels against many different backdrops of British life, from the cities to the countryside, from the Public School system to the underground sex scene, from the world of classical music to the world of tabloid journalism, and so many others.

You never quite know, when you pick up a new Elizabeth George novel, just what segment of British society she'll be taking on this time. But you do know that she'll be doing so from within the framework of well created, fully developed characters who are incredibly believable as a part of this world, and through the meticulous research that goes into each and every one of her novels.