Should I do Dunnett?

One author I have yet to read is Dorothy Dunnett.  I own the first few volumes of the Lymond chronicles thanks to my late Mum. She enjoyed them very much and was re-reading them back then. They are renowned for not being an easy read though, requiring perseverance and frequent referring back or to a guide to remind yourself of who’s who and what’s what.

For anyone who’s not heard of the Lymond Chronicles, they are set during the middle of the 16th century, and tell the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman. They feature a lot of real historical characters too, and the action ranges from Scotland across Europe and the Mediterranean. There are six volumes in the series – each of around 500 pages.

She has a heavyweight cadre of fans too. Before she died in 2001, she set up the Dorothy Dunnett Society; they now host an ‘International Dorothy Dunnett Day’ or IDDD which will be on November 10th this year.

Before I read up a little about her and discovered the existence of the above society, I toyed with the idea of inviting you lot to join me in reading the first in the sequence, The Game of Kings. It has four parts of roughly 190, 90, 90 and 200 pages – the last can be split again into two.  Then if we liked it, we could do the second volume Queens’ Play.  We could take it in leisurely fashion, starting on IDDD (Nov 10th) and regrouping in the New Year to review the first and largest chunk, then the smaller chunks over the next four months to the end of April …

… then I read DGR’s post from 2007 and saw the problems Lynne and her co-readers had with ‘Dunnettmania’.  It all sounds more than a little daunting. Added to that, all the books are out of print in the UK, (although it is in e-book format), and secondhand copies are available – at a price…

So dare I?  Dare we?  Have you done Dunnett?

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kings
Queens’ Play
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion

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41 thoughts on “Should I do Dunnett?

  1. Give it a go Annabel and I will see if
    I can track down my copies and join you!
    I read the first three of the Lymond novels back in the 80’s pre children and as I recall they were fine once you were immersed in them but found the others a bit much to cope with once motherhood and lack of sleep had turned my brain to mush!
    I think that they will be ideal autumn/winter books because they certainly draw you in to their world.

  2. I love Dorothy Dunnett! My favourite books of all times, and also my husband’s. Can’t recommend them highly enough, do it! If the Companions (which translate quotients etc..) are out of print too, or you want copies of the later books I can lend them to you – I cant see a Dunnett book unloved in a charity shop, it has to be bought for my collection!
    I may join in with a read-along as well, I re-read them every 3 years which is about now.

    • Sounds like the Lymond books are your equivalent of my LOTR re-reads (although they are more spaced out these days). I certainly have the first two, and suspect there are more in the dark recesses of my shelves that will come to light as I go through them, but thanks for the offer of loans – although if I get hooked I will HAVE to have my own copies!

    • She is very highly thought of by all who click with her books – but for everyone who loves them, there is one who doesn’t get on with them it seems. It’ll be interesting.

  3. I’ve read all of Dunnett’s historical novels (but not her mysteries), and I loved them. If you’re curious about them, you should absolutely give them a try. And the advice one of the commenters over at DGR had to skate over the details and just read for story on the first go is spot on. That’s what I did, and I ended up devouring the whole series over a couple of months one summer. I didn’t bother with the companions or anything like that, just the story. I’m saving that for a reread!

    I recently bought copies of all but the first two books of the series, so I may join you! Jenny and I have talked off and on for the past couple of months about rereading them soonish. I’m wondering about DGR’s debacle–perhaps there was a mix of devourers (like me on my first read) and people who wanted to pace themselves.

    • Teresa, I remember some of your posts and had mentally filed Dunnett away for an author to be explored.

      I’m usually a devourer of books – and don’t know if I’ll be able to just do small chunks each month. Having suggested splitting it into five, it may be better to do three larger chunks: Intro+Part 1; Parts 2 & 3; and Part 4, so one can pace and mini-devour 😉

  4. I’ve been reading the Lymond Chronicles slowly these past couple of years, I’m about to start on the 4th book. Do give them a try.

  5. The Lymond Chronicles are wonderful, my favourite series of books, and I’ve now read them three times. I suppose they’re not for everyone but do give them a go – if they are your sort of thing you’re in for a real treat!

  6. They are demanding but so rewarding – can’t begin to guess how many times I have read the Lymond series and have in fact just started it again – and it still has the power to make me cry in various places – such a wonderful way with words. King Hereafter is also very worth reading as is Niccolo series set in an earlier time – her research throughout is meticulous. Her detective books are great too – much more light hearted.

  7. Here via the Dunnett fan page on LiveJoural: I hope you will at least give the books a try. There\’s a straight line back through Dorothy Sayers here, to Baroness Orczy (she of terrific ideas and abysmal writing), and Dunnett has had profound influence on a number of writers.

    The first and second book might take some dedication, but by the time you get to PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE they begin to pay off not only with brilliant passage after brilliant passage, but the emotional blowback makes them difficult to put down.

    Hope you give them a try–and like them!

  8. Yes, jump in! I cannot imagine my “reading life” without Lymond and Niccolo. At the Millenium New Year, January 2000, I resolved to read more and cast around for a good place to start. Luckily I found DD. It took 70 pages of Games of Kings, but by then I was in thrall to the characters and world depicted there. Reading DD is not a passive experience – the more you know, the more you appreciate the books. So, I would read with a dictionary on one side and an encyclopedia on the other, post-it notes fattening the pages and rough “character trees” scratched out on a legal pad nearby. Granted, this isn’t for everyone, but I enjoyed every minute. Still do, as the books yield new pleasures with every re-reading.

  9. I have just begun rereading The Game of Kings. It is difficult, but as DD gained experience as a writer the books became easier to follow, and what a trip it is to travel with Lymond and Nicholas around the world. Since reading these books the first time, I have been on a search to find other books that give me the same satisfaction. So far, have not been successful, which is why I keep rereading these!

  10. I love Dunnett.
    Read the first book, Game of Kings when I was about 17 and loved it. I’m a story girl so raced through it on first read to find out what happens and then reread more slowly to pick up all the detail I had missed. This was late 60’s and so read the others later, with space between. When I got to the end of the series I reread them one after the other.
    Wasn’t sure about Nicolo to start with, but then got hooked and read them as they came out. Actually think I prefer them, very different hero! Again, at the end, gulped and reread the series one after the other.
    Love the Johnson mysteries, but not so keen on King Hereafter, which others love!

  11. WARNING- this could change your life in reading Historical Fiction! As a member of DDS who has read ALL her books,and subscriber to WG & M& K ( letterzines) before that, attended DD’s ‘gatherings in Scotland , met her in person, and made many new friends, took holidays travelling ‘in the footsteps’ of her heroes. This can all be yours too. Mike Brain

    • That is a serious habit Mike! I think though, that however much I enjoy them, my ever-growing piles of unread books waiting for me will force me to moderate my reading of them … but then again, maybe not! 🙂 Thanks for the email too.

  12. I was hooked from the start, literally, as after the first three words I wanted to know who Lymond was, where he’d been, and why he was back. Read for the rip-roaring tale set amongst characters who may be more (or less) familiar, e.g. Mary Queen of Scots, in a period full of intrigue, back stabbing and a few sword fights. It will give you a different perspective on the history of northern Europe and the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century. By the end of the series, you’ll forget some of the characters are actually fictional.
    You may need to persevere a little in the beginning whilst you get used to the characters, the writing style and the story, but give it a chance.

    • In the past I have read some Jean Plaidy novels, including the Mary Queen of Scots one The Royal Road to Fotheringay, and I even read Walter Scott as a teenager, which I hope will stand me in a little stead, and I have a shelf full of history books, some of which cover the period for reference. So I think I’m set.

  13. Oh do, Annabel, they are tremendous! I’ve read all of her novels and adore them all, they are superbly self-indulgent and, if they’re your “thing”, utterly addictive. I too would recommend just charging straight through at first, never mind looking things up – you can do that on the second or third read 🙂

    I could definitely be tempted to join in, it must be getting on for 20 years since I read them last. I always used to get them out of the library (I lived in the Scottish Borders then so there were always copies available) and it’s certainly time I got a set of my own.

    • Thanks for the advice. I think I will certainly want to enjoy the story without getting bogged down in detail on a first reading. I may be asking some of my blog friends who’ve read them already for some possible discussion points, or things to look out for if the readalong goes to plan (from all the interest, it seems that it’ll be on!)

  14. My advice is to just read the books and not to do anything extra. Don’t look everything up in the Companions, or on the internet, and don’t bother to translate the quotes in foreign languages (they’re not *that* important to the plot: just get on with it. The only thing you might want to do is to make a note of the different names of the various characters – e.g. Francis Crawford IS Lymond IS The Master of Culter; Richard Crawford IS Baron Culter, and so on. But you can get most of this from the characters lists at the start of the books. If you really enjoy the books, then you can do all the research on subsequent reads.

  15. I read the Lymond Chronicles earlier this year and absolutely loved all six books. I found it one of the most rewarding experiences in my entire lifetime of reading! Now I’m working my way through the House of Niccolo series and enjoying those too, though not quite as much.

    I hope you do decide to give the Lymond books a try. I would be tempted to re-read them along with you, but it might be too confusing unless I manage to finish the House of Niccolo first!

  16. YES, YES, YES
    I’m about to travel to Istanbul with 110 other Dunnett-ophiles to explore the locations of Pawn in Frankincense – can’t wait!
    I started reading them in the 60s too, and then all thru Niccolo – reread them about every 5 years – and I own all of them as audiobooks too (for listening in the car).
    Enjoy!

    • Wow! As long as you don’t hold it against me should I not get on with them… Actually my late Mum and I had very similar tastes in fiction, so there shouldn’t be a problem (and my Dad read them too it seems)

      • I would never be negative with another ‘reader’ – just sorry that you are missing great reading.
        BTW, I’m just back from the trip of a lifetime to Istanbul – a dip into a truly different culture, a tour of amazing architecture, good food and talk with very talented and interesting Dunnett fans.
        I finished re-reading Pawn in Frankincense on the plane(s) back and it again touched my heart.
        The creativity and attention to detail produced by the dedicated volunteers who arranged this tour is not to be believed! Look what Dorothy wrought!

  17. I love Dunnett. Only started reading her about 3 or 4 years ago, but she jumped straight away to my top 3 as a writer. The Lymond Chronicles are amazing, but you need to accept that they are not subway reads, especially the first two. You need to work for it, but the rewards… oh my! After the this if gets easier. They are probably the most rewarding books I’ve ever read.

    • Thanks for the advice Alex. At this stage I am still slightly amazed at the esteem in which they are held – will I get hooked too? Probably!

  18. I read “The Game of Kings” as a teen, before I had any preconception of whether it would be easy or difficult – and I loved every moment of it. I didn’t see the difficulties others saw. I simply saw the rollicking fun, the adventure, the romance, the humour.

    Give it a try. No need for trepidation. Read, and if you don’t enjoy it, stop.

  19. I have been reading Dorothy Dunnett since 1976. I have reread each and everyone so many times, I have lost count. On your first read, just go for the story. Her writing is so amazing. Could go on and on. There are several lists to join to get questions answered and believe me there are members who have the books memorized.

  20. I LOVE DD novels! They are definitely a bit to wade through at first, but that’s why I can go back to them over and aver again. I reread both series every 2 years or so, and on every read, I get something more out of the story that I missed the previous times.

    I am now at the point where I look some things up from the novels, but I still don’t sweat the historical details to terribly much. I still haven’t gotten to the point of looking for all the foreshadowing that happens in the Niccolo series but I am sure when I do that finding those moments will be yet another thing to keep these books fascinating.

    I would heartily recommend going ahead and reading away. And I am with a few of the others – on the first read, just read for the story. You can always revisit the books later for all the glorious details.

  21. JUst read them as really good stories, about characters you will care for and don’t woory about following up information in Companions etc- I read the Lymond series before the Companion was published, and thoroughly enjoyed all the stories in the series. They are totally absorbing reads and like many other commentators, I reread them a few times. The only writer I think compares with Dorothy Dunnett is Hilary Mantel, with Wolf Hall – I’ve yet to read Bring Up the Bodies.

  22. I too am hovering on the brink of Dunnetting. Why don’t YOU read some and then I’ll decide whether or not I really want to; if you collapse under the strain I shall cast Dorothy from my shelves. Probably 😉

  23. Of course you should! If you enjoy words and puzzles you will love the richness of the language and if you appreciate historical accuracy there is no other historical series to match.

    As others have recommended, just go for it and don’t worry about the foreign phrases and the (deliberately) confusing plot but read fast the first time for the wonderful story and characterisation – then on your second/third etc reading (and there will be multiple readings, believe me!) you can start to understand all the layers.

    Francis Crawford of Lymond is the ultimate action hero and plenty of readers rank him as their dream man! But even minor characters are fully formed and the writer’s alter ego as an artist shows in all her descriptions. Enjoy!

  24. Pingback: “Lymond is back.” « Gaskella

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