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....

5 Responses so far.

  1. Gavin says:

    I am saddened to hear of Diana Norman's death and absolutely appalled by that BBC obituary!

  2. Isn't it awful, on both counts? She is a tremendous loss to a vast readership, and her death should have been reported in those terms, it seems to me.

  3. Annie says:

    I'm very sorry about Diana Norman's death, but I have to say that I thought what she did at the end of book four and the way she left it was not good writing. It smacked too much of a feeling of 'I must have a hook to bring the readers into the next book' and I think she was too good a writer to play that game. In other respects I think it's the best of the series since the first one, so you may want to read it, but personally I would suggest waiting to see if there is anything she has left that indicates what she intended the outcome to be.

    I love the way you refer to Mt Grademore. When my mother was alive she personified my marking and would throw acquaintances into complete confusion by casually asking if I'd been seeing much of Mark lately, or if I was going to spend the weekend with him. Well, you have to find some way of coping, don't you?

  4. Stefanie says:

    Several years ago a favorite author of mine, Octavia E. Butler, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 59 after falling on her porch stairs. She didn't leave a series hanging but this happened in 2006 and I'm still sad about it when I think of it or pick up one of her books.

  5. A very belated reply to your great comments, Annie and Stefanie - sorry about that! Time got away from me a bit.

    I just got A Murderous Procession in the mail and (to my shame) madly skimmed it. This is a terrible plot-hungry habit I have to break myself of. At least the "cliffhanger ending" allows me to manufacture a scenario of hope, if there isn't another manuscript lurking about posthumously. But I still feel so despondent about the loss of her....

    I've never read any Butler, Stefanie, but I have a couple on my shelves. Where would you recommend that I start with her work? (I didn't even realize she had died!)

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