Monday, March 3, 2014

"Innocent Blood" by P. D. James ~ The Spoiler Edition

Having the desire to read this book for years, it did not turn out nowhere near how I expected it to.  In both a good and bad way.  So I shall warn you NOW!  I will probably spoil this entire book right here… right now!

Excuse me for stating this, but this book was on some twisted shit, and I’m not even going to attempt to go for P. J. James for this one.  I’ve read a few of her books and am slightly familiar with her psychology-thriller template.  However, Innocent Blood just had me looking sick and crazy in the end.  Okay, I’ll reframe and state that it wasn’t as radically rendering as I’m crying out to believe.  It’s not something that I won’t get over in a couple of days, to be fair.  And I’m certainly interested in reading another of her books.  Nevertheless, I dedicate this blog post to spilling a little on the summary of the book, and answering the Reading Group Guide questions that are present in the back of the book.  I thought this would be a much more interesting way of speaking about the complexities of Innocent Blood.  For me to present and answer those questions, I would have to give away parts of the book.  So be warned now!

Here we go, a condense (hopefully) summary.  First, the story takes place in Britain.  It begins with the adopted Philippa Palfrey introducing herself to a social worker.  Armed with her passport and drivers’ license, eighteen-year-old Philippa is prepared to employee the Children Act of 1975 to gather information regarding her birth parents.  In Philippa’s circumstance the passing of the Children Act of 1975 grants her further documentation of her adoption at eight-years-old; though, at one point, those documents were listed under confidential.  The social worker makes a slight show of hesitation, hinting more or less that Philippa might not like what she finds.  Naturally, Philippa isn’t discouraged.  She was adopted into a well-off family (Maurice and Hilda Palfrey), and coated with a certain level of prestige, is determined to have things her way.  Besides, she’s never felt love within her adopted family, and driven by her dreams, can only open her arms to the possibility of finding love through her biological parents.  Love in the form of identity.

Leaving the social worker’s office, Philippa is encouraged to find her birth certificate.  That will reveal the names of her biological parents.  She does so, receiving the envelope from the Registrar General soon after her visit to the social worker's office.  The first thing she notice is that she was named Rose Ducton.  The second: the address of her birth parents from the year she was born, 1960.  Philippa keeps this information from her homemaker/juvenile court juror adopted mother, Hilda, as well as from her sociology professor adopted father, Maurice.  In the meantime, Philippa makes personal plans to reach her birth home in Seven Kings, Essex.  After all, her adopted father appears to occupied to care.  A knowingness that Philippa is familiar with.  

Philippa arrives in her birth neighborhood only to find that her original home is presently vacant, yet occupied by another tenant.  Therefore, she goes to speak with the neighbors.  It's here that the news slams into her that her birth father and mother were condemned to prison years ago for the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old named Julie Scase.  Further information reveals that Philippa’s biology father died in prison whereas her mother, Mary Ducton, was coming up on a release.  Neither of the provided information cripples Philippa’s resolve to find her parents, or her mother in this case.  It only reinforces her need for common identity, so she sets forth in seeking out her mother and pulling the woman into her life.  However, before she begins, she confronts her adopted parents on the issue.  They could come up with no explanation concerning Philippa’s parents' crimes, only that it was best that Philippa realize that there was never a good time for them to have shared this information with her.  Also according to them, it wasn’t a good idea for Philippa to seek out her mother.  Nevertheless, her adopted parents do little to stand in her way, reassured that she would find what she’s looking for and return to them.

Philippa uses her adoptive parents' unhinderedness as a means to find the necessary information on her mother’s prison whereabouts.  Once discovered, she requests a visitation, driven by the romantic idea that she can take care of her mother even if she should put her Cambridge dreams on hold to do so.  And that’s what Philippa manages.  Instead of leaving her mother alone to a hostel after her release date, Philippa leases a bodega-like flat (below her is a small grocery store run by a man named Edward) and retrieves her mother for the growing experience.  After her mother’s probation officer comes to solidify the conditions, Philippa and her mother proceed to get jobs at a local diner.  All the while, they are unaware that poor Juliet Scase’s father has been tracking Philippa’s mother’s prison sentence, and subsequent releasing.  Why?  To exact revenge, of course.

Used from Archivia Caltari
It sounds straight forward, but trust me when I say that this novel is anything but straight forward.  Sure, some areas may come across as predictable once you settle into the stream of James’s storytelling, but the psychological aspects will leave you in wonder.  Let me first make it clear that Philippa isn’t the only narrative you follow as the reader.  Thankfully so.  You also follow the neurotic musings of Juliet Scase’s father, Norman.  From his beginnings as a thief, to the lost of his daughter and wife, Mavis.  His character blossoms under some psychological complexities that both harden his resolve for revenge, as well as link his abilities/skills to implement his plan smoothly.  We also get a glimpse into Maurice Palfrey and his wife Hilda Palfrey.  As Philippa’s adoptive parents, James does not let each of their mental intricacies slide.  We know who they are and why they do and live as they do.  Even as some of their most disturbing behaviors come to light, it is not without reason.  And probably one of the most missed, as well as important, narratives lie in the frame narrative (via Mary Ducton’s letter to Philippa) James uses to illustrate the psychology behind Philippa’s mother and her crime.  And as atrocious as it sounds, this piece of framed narrative is where I grew to understand Mary Ducton.  James makes matters clear concerning Mary's emotionless reasoning behind the murder.  In essence, she, herself, was abused as a child and it is terrifying upon its disclosure.

Having only read into James's Cordelia Grey Mysteries, I believe it's time I start packing the dollars to take on her whole catalog of books.  And so should you if you are behind on P.D. James.

Reading Group Questions

1.  When Philippa first learns that her mother was a murderess about to be released from prison, did you expect that her mother would be a threat to Philippa?  Were you surprised to find her a gentle, even sympathetic character?  Where does the suspense in the novel come from?

I absolutely did believe Mary Ducton was going to be a threat to Philippa.  I was sure that she would take full advantage of the clout Philippa managed to gather from the status of Maurice Palfrey.  Additonally, to the extend of his deceased ex-wife, Helena, an earls daughter.  An earl is considered a person of nobility.  

Nonetheless, I was surprised to find Mary to be gentle, but held my breathe in the thought that she was buying time before she made her move.  Now I know, once a killer always a killer.  But there seems to be no sympathy for Mary Ducton by other readers.  She has paid her price (though I thought a life term would be the court's decision), and is now living her life under the social stigma of a child murderer.  Yet, I rooted for Mary once the narrative switched to share her fated letter to Philippa, soon after the two became roommates.  Mary was trying again at life by putting her trust in Philippa.  And when it came to light that Mary gave Philippa away months before the murder of Juliet Scase, James did not relent as she shed a clear light as to why.  I mean, James dug into Mary’s psychology that I couldn't help but feel for her in the end.  I’ve seen reviews where readers claim she got what she deserved, delivered by the awfulness I come to learn that made up Philippa.  Speaking of which, I had to remind myself that Philippa was eighteen--therefore a child as the novel's events unfolded.  I stress that even more when later she goes to an even lower point to find that love she felt her mother failed to give her.  

As far as the suspense in the novel, most of that came from Norman Scase and the thrill as to whether or not he would get away with this murder he has so plotted.

2.  How does Philippa change in the course of the novel?  What does her final encounter with Norman Scase reveal about her growth?  Do you accept as true that "it is only through learning to love that we find identity"?

I believe the last line fully.  Learning to love yourself and those who show you love, but can not always express it, does blend and create an identity.  For someone to show you even a semblance of concern and care is to show you love.  It's just often shown differently.  Philippa couldn't accept the sort of callus, non-spoken love which she recieved from her adoptive parents.  Most of their love manifested in the development of her future, and further success as a respectable woman.  Now, I could point out her adoptive father's disturbing fondness for her, later expressed sexually (though legal), but I won't go there considering I felt like that was a downfall on Philippa's overall development.  

Nevertheless, the fact is that her own biological mother was a murderess, did not want Philippa because of her own troubled childhood baggage/tramua, and came across as "useless" to Philippa's journey for identity.  In doing so, Philippa gave up the battle when she learned the truth; her mother never wanted her, and can not give back that love she should have provided to Philippa as a child.  In turn, Philippa allowed Norman Scase to do as he will to her mother.  Still, poor Mary Ducton had given up on life, as she wasn't able to find her identity because she was unable to love her own child.  Had she learned to love Philippa, Mary may have kept from murdering Juliet--without much thought.  This leading to the trauma they both share, and Mary's eventual suicide.  I'm still upset at the fate of Mary and Philippa, though.

Have you read Innocent Blood or any other P. D. James psychological thriller?  Please share your thoughts or suggestions.  Should I start her Adam Dalgliesh series now?

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