Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Book 7 of 2012: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

I first read The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle a couple of years ago. Mr Click was never a big reader when we were going out, but he's always been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so when The Book People advertised the complete set of Sherlock Holmes books for less than £10 he took the plunge (and now some nights before bed he reads for longer than I do)!

I was quite pleased when I found that The Sign of Four was going to be one of the books I'd be studying for A230, I thought 'great, at least that's one book that I know I can understand', hehe. Now I'm having to write an essay about it I'm starting to change my mind though.

This is the second of the Sherlock Holmes stories to be published and is a single story, as opposed to a collection of short stories. It sees Holmes and Watson approached by Miss Mary Morstan whose father disappeared in mysterious circumstances shortly after returning from India some years before. Mary receives some equally mysterious gifts each year until finally she is invited to meet with someone who has some information about her father. Throw a strange death, a bungling police detective and India treasure into the mix and you've got a classic Holmes story.

This book is a nice quick read. I almost managed it in two sittings but I think it would be a good one to snuggle up with on a rainy holiday or cold day in winter when you've not got anything else to be done. One of the things that the course book mentions is the fact that it's actually a very short novel; originally it was published in serialized form, which is why it's broken up the way that it is.

This time as I read it, I kept the subject of this part of the course in mind; 'home' and 'abroad'. Although much of the action takes place at 'home' in London, the final chapter includes a lengthy description of life in India. I didn't realise until I studied the course book that the events described here refer to the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857. This is something which would be clear in the minds of readers at the time that it was published, probably the way that someone in a modern book might make reference to the events of 9/11. It would've been widely discussed by popular culture of the day.

It's something that I didn't appreciate the first time that I read it, but which I feel that, knowing that now, helps me to understand the story a little more. Since reading the book I've studied the chapter of the course book and I've also revisited it for a TMA, so I think that knowing that little bit more about the context it was written in has given me a better understanding of it.

Of course, while I was reading it, I couldn't help but be reminded of the adaptations that I've been watching. Most recently we saw the Jeremy Brett version, but I've seen others in the past as well (living with Mr Click, it's hard not to)! I've got a pretty distinctive picture in my mind of the way that the story would play out, but I kind of had Jeremy Brett in my mind as I was reading.

In terms of the actual story, it's a good old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes story, but I forgot just how funny it is too. Holmes is terribly sexist and comes out with some awful, but hilarious statements, and Watson gets muddled when he's around Mary Morstan which leads to him saying some ridiculous things (particularly regarding his being in India, having a double-barrelled tiger look into his tent and so firing a tiger cub at it). There were several occasions where I laughed out loud as I was reading, I don't remember doing that before, but I think it definitely helped me to enjoy the book.

So far this has definitely been my favourite book to study, even if I'm using a different edition to the one covered in the course materials, making page references a bit hit or miss.

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