My love for Gaudy Night is all in one line from Wallace Stevens: “The reader became the book.” It’s rare that a book feels so close and so personal, that something I read feels so utterly true, with the ground solid beneath it even as the language soars—not for nothing does Sayers have Harriet ask Peter, “Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?” His answer: “So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober. Which accounts for my talking so much.” (Ah! And this: “…all Oxford springing underfoot in living leaf and enduring stone, ringed far off by her bulwark of blue hills”—as my heart beats back, yes, yes, and yes.)
Indeed, one of Sayers’ trademarks is her palpable joy in the range and playfulness of words, and she flings them out like little glittering trails of magic, sprinkled here and here and there, even as she weaves together mystery, romance, and social commentary in one long, rapturous flow. It’s a story filled with small character dramas and great truths, and at its center is a bright, prickly, stubbornly human heroine who refuses to let her heart run away with her head (shades of Elizabeth Bennet in the guise of a 1930s detective novelist, yea). And the fact that a book written over 70 years ago can land so hard and strike so deeply—by constructing and inhabiting a world completely unlike my own while at the same time seeming to have been written especially for me—well, that’s both the gift and the surprise at the heart of the finest fiction, and the very best reward one can hope for when leaning into the page.