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Blood on the Dining-Room Floor: A Murder Mystery

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Shortly after the publication of her bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein found herself stymied by writer's block. A series of local crimes inspired this attempt to revive her artistry, a droll detective novel in which the central mystery involves rediscovering the path to creativity. Also includes the short mysteries "Is Dead" and "A Waterfall and a Pia Shortly after the publication of her bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein found herself stymied by writer's block. A series of local crimes inspired this attempt to revive her artistry, a droll detective novel in which the central mystery involves rediscovering the path to creativity. Also includes the short mysteries "Is Dead" and "A Waterfall and a Piano."


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Shortly after the publication of her bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein found herself stymied by writer's block. A series of local crimes inspired this attempt to revive her artistry, a droll detective novel in which the central mystery involves rediscovering the path to creativity. Also includes the short mysteries "Is Dead" and "A Waterfall and a Pia Shortly after the publication of her bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein found herself stymied by writer's block. A series of local crimes inspired this attempt to revive her artistry, a droll detective novel in which the central mystery involves rediscovering the path to creativity. Also includes the short mysteries "Is Dead" and "A Waterfall and a Piano."

30 review for Blood on the Dining-Room Floor: A Murder Mystery

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    3.5 stars This is Gertrude Stein’s foray into detective novels; written not long after her success with The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas and at a time when she was suffering with writers block (written about 1934 it wasn’t published until 1948). It is an experimental novel and it is quite apt that the virago edition I have has a Picasso painting on the front. It is a cubist painting and Stein was interested in cubism and this is also her attempt at a cubist novel. Modernism does not sit easily 3.5 stars This is Gertrude Stein’s foray into detective novels; written not long after her success with The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas and at a time when she was suffering with writers block (written about 1934 it wasn’t published until 1948). It is an experimental novel and it is quite apt that the virago edition I have has a Picasso painting on the front. It is a cubist painting and Stein was interested in cubism and this is also her attempt at a cubist novel. Modernism does not sit easily with the formulaic nature of traditional detective novels, but the often fragmentary nature of information in a detective novel does give a modernist author some scope for having fun. Don’t expect clear characters, an obvious crime and any sort of plot; do expect sentences like the following: “A little come they which they can they will they can be married to a man, a young enough man an old man and a young enough man.” And “This much I know that willing to sleep willing to make willing to see water may make a chain may make a lane between which they will not falter. But just when.” It is set in France and Stein drew on events that had happened in the village she was living in at the time. It draws on reflections and snippets of gossip and fragments of thought. It has been suggested it should be read twice. I read some of it out loud and that seemed to help! It is useful to remember that Stein refers to characters in a generic way as male, female, sister, brother, gardener and so on. But the setting, the country rather than the city is important: “They said nothing happens in the country but there are more changes in a family in the country in five years than in a family in the city and this is natural. If nothing changed in the country there could not be butter and eggs. There have to be changes in the country, there had to be breaking up of families and killing of dogs and spoiling of sons and losing of daughters and killing of mothers and banishing of fathers. Of course there must in the country. And so this makes in the country everything happening in the country. Nothing happens in the city. Everything happens in the country. The city just tells what has happened in the country, it has already happened in the country.” There is a “continuous present” here and the whole thing does flow. If you like a bit of a challenge, but not on the scale of some of the more notorious behemoths, this may be for you; it’s just over 70 pages.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    from a more extended discussion on my blog: Blood on the Dining-Room Floor is probably best read twice: once quickly through, on its own terms; then again with thought given to various annotations. The edition I have was published by the Creative Arts Book Company (Berkeley) in 1982 in an edition with a helpful afterword by John Herbert Gill; it has been made available on the Internet. The first time through you'll perhaps be irritated and/or bored; this is a frequent response to Stein's writing from a more extended discussion on my blog: Blood on the Dining-Room Floor is probably best read twice: once quickly through, on its own terms; then again with thought given to various annotations. The edition I have was published by the Creative Arts Book Company (Berkeley) in 1982 in an edition with a helpful afterword by John Herbert Gill; it has been made available on the Internet. The first time through you'll perhaps be irritated and/or bored; this is a frequent response to Stein's writing. One reads a new book (new to the reader, I mean) burdened with the experience of all that prior reading, and most of that prior reading is pretty commonplace. Not the content of the texts, perhaps; but certainly the form or style. Even Henry James remains "difficult"; not that many readers go past, say, Mrs. Dalloway. But I find Blood on the Dining-Room Floor a charming book, read not terribly closely, say in bed. The crime, if it was a crime, let alone its perpetrator, never really appears; the entire affair's presented as if a matter of village gossip, narrated through innuendo and arched eyebrow, certainly not laid out in at-first-and-then sequential narrative.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bev

    Don't expect me to give you a plot synopsis on this one. I don't find that to be even remotely possible. If there's a plot hidden in there, it went completely over my head. The afterword explains (as well as possible) what this is supposed to be about, but I'm still not convinced. AND...it doesn't address where the blood on the dining-room floor came from and what it has to do with anything. The only possible crime/mystery involved seems to be attached to a death at a hotel and has nothing whats Don't expect me to give you a plot synopsis on this one. I don't find that to be even remotely possible. If there's a plot hidden in there, it went completely over my head. The afterword explains (as well as possible) what this is supposed to be about, but I'm still not convinced. AND...it doesn't address where the blood on the dining-room floor came from and what it has to do with anything. The only possible crime/mystery involved seems to be attached to a death at a hotel and has nothing whatsoever to do with the country house introduced in the first chapter or with its dining room. According to the cover of my edition, this is Blood on the Dining-Room Floor: A Murder Mystery*. *a novel, play, or movie dealing with a puzzling crime, especially a murder. And here on the Block, we follow that standard definition. Mysteries are my primary reading fare and I enjoy a good murder plot. This being the case, I can tell you that whatever Gertrude Stein has written...it's not a mystery. Unless.... *something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. we want to go with this second definition of mystery. Because, by golly, she's got that "difficult or impossible to understand" thing down cold. Stream of consciousness writers and I don't exactly get on well and why on earth they think the rest of us want to know every little thought that pops into their heads is beyond me. If (and this is a mighty big if) she had wanted to do a stream of consciousness mystery and had actually woven a real plot into the thoughts that were popping up on the page, I might have gone along with it. It might have been a nice experiment--especially if she had made it an examination of the type of crime she was interested in--something in the vein of the Lizzie Borden case where the killer got away with it. After all, Faulkner liked to do this sort of thing and he wrote Intruder in the Dust...a mystery with a powerful dose of social commentary...and I thought it was pretty terrific. But is that what she did? No. She wrote a mish-mash of I don't know what and you can't see the crime (if there is one) for the extraneous bits and pieces which can't even be considered red herrings because there are too many of them and there doesn't seem to be anything substantial for them to be distracting the reader from. The blurb above also describes this as "a droll** detective novel" **curious or unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement There was no amusement to be had--dry, wet, or otherwise. It was a long, hard slog to finish this short little book. The piece is a mere one hundred pages long (including afterword) and yet I felt like I was struggling through a tome three or four times as long. Unrated--because I can't even think what to do with it. First posted on my blog My Reader's Block.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Polansky

    Gertrude Stein wrote a mystery novel!?! Sort of! I mean, it’s not exactly Chandler, and there are most hints of a plot than there is an actual storyline, but there’s certainly a strong whiff of nefariousness in this, as well as a ton of absolutely fabulous writing, as would be expected. I mean, it is a little much, the endless reliance on pronoun and repetition, but when it works, as it often does, one is left gasping enthusiastically at Stein’s brilliantly precise language. Lots of fun. (PS the Gertrude Stein wrote a mystery novel!?! Sort of! I mean, it’s not exactly Chandler, and there are most hints of a plot than there is an actual storyline, but there’s certainly a strong whiff of nefariousness in this, as well as a ton of absolutely fabulous writing, as would be expected. I mean, it is a little much, the endless reliance on pronoun and repetition, but when it works, as it often does, one is left gasping enthusiastically at Stein’s brilliantly precise language. Lots of fun. (PS the Butler did it.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rani

    oh my god! this woman was brilliant. this book is meant to be read out loud. it is a character and totally a stae piece.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kit

    like any Stein, a cleansing experience.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Meh. This Stein book is obscure for a reason. I much prefer Three Lives and Tender Buttons.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vlada

    The must-read of the 20th century literature that is almost impossible to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Johanne

    Hmmmm a book that is more about style and words rather than any discernible plot. But the words are good & it is short - I suspect it would be beyond my limits if it were much longer

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chico

    It's Gertrude so I guess it's ok. It's Gertrude so I guess it's ok.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    Wiffley, repetitive sentences, nothing said directly, punctuation is random, no idea what's happening... Wiffley, repetitive sentences, nothing said directly, punctuation is random, no idea what's happening...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    Ouch. That was painful.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bryn

    A genre "murder mystery", filtered through the mind of a genius. A genre "murder mystery", filtered through the mind of a genius.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    Simon at Stuck in a Book recently read and reviewed Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933), a quirky mystery by Gertrude Stein based on real blood on her real floor. She doesn't do a bad job, at least not by Stein standards. Here is the review I wrote when I read it back in 2008. It was the summer of 1933 and Gertrude Stein had just achieved real success with the publication of her famed autobiography, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. But when she returned to her desk to begin writing her next Simon at Stuck in a Book recently read and reviewed Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933), a quirky mystery by Gertrude Stein based on real blood on her real floor. She doesn't do a bad job, at least not by Stein standards. Here is the review I wrote when I read it back in 2008. It was the summer of 1933 and Gertrude Stein had just achieved real success with the publication of her famed autobiography, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. But when she returned to her desk to begin writing her next work she found herself suffering from dreaded Writer's Block. What to do? Why, write a mystery of course. The inspiration was a telephone line cut, two cars tampered with (spark plugs removed and water in the gas tank), a piano that wouldn't play (the keys were cemented together), and real blood on Gertrude Stein's real dining-room floor in her country house. Stein was also remembering the Lizzie Borden murders fifty years earlier and throughout the book she writes, "Lizzie do you understand." "Lizzie do you mind." "Of course Lizzie you do understand of course you do." The result of this memorable summer was Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, of which Virgil Thomson said, "It's not the finest detective story in the world, but it is very good, Gertrude." I would echo Thomson and I would add that the ending . . . well, the ending is . . . um, . . . this is by Gertrude Stein, you understand of course you do.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Guille Osorio

    Gertrude Stein might be considered part of the "Lost Generation" and she is recognized around the world for her work, but this book was unnecessary. The book is about mysterious events which mix fictional and real facts in an elaborated and sometimes meaningless writing style. It is important to emphasize that Steins is known for her particular style and that this was her first work after a writing crisis in which she was unable to write. I could understand the book after reading the introduction Gertrude Stein might be considered part of the "Lost Generation" and she is recognized around the world for her work, but this book was unnecessary. The book is about mysterious events which mix fictional and real facts in an elaborated and sometimes meaningless writing style. It is important to emphasize that Steins is known for her particular style and that this was her first work after a writing crisis in which she was unable to write. I could understand the book after reading the introduction that John Herbert Gill wrote. Why do I need to read an introduction written by another person in order to understand the story? Why this book is considered a detective novel even when Stein herself said that there was no mystery at all? I think she wrote in order to release herself, but this did not work out for me. I am glad that she could release herself by writing, but I am not glad that I had to read external documents in order to understand the novel. There are no characters. Everyone is real. I did not give it 1 star because her writing style was creative (sometimes). Worst part of all of it? I have to translate this book into Spanish in order to obtain the Traductor inglés – español degree. Wish me luck. PLEASE!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This crime novel won't be loved by crime novel lovers. I liked the book. I loved the introduction. Once again Janet Hobhouse perfectly invites us in the world of Stein's writings. Of course we can only gamble about what actually happened in G. Stein's head and soul but I completely trust Hobhouse's descriptions. She has done her homework and I believe Stein's way of seeing things and expressing this seeing in her writings is perfectly explained. This is not a typical crime fiction. It is Gertrud This crime novel won't be loved by crime novel lovers. I liked the book. I loved the introduction. Once again Janet Hobhouse perfectly invites us in the world of Stein's writings. Of course we can only gamble about what actually happened in G. Stein's head and soul but I completely trust Hobhouse's descriptions. She has done her homework and I believe Stein's way of seeing things and expressing this seeing in her writings is perfectly explained. This is not a typical crime fiction. It is Gertrude Stein, so obviously it is not a typical... whatever. Nothing typical. In this case it is not even typical Stein because this is her first and only novel of the kind. And it is so different from other crime fiction mainly because it doesn't have a detective as the main character (or a villain for that sake). The main character actually is the act of deduction itself. As Hobhouse puts it: "[...] the process of thinking things out and the display of that process; the gradual understanding and making clear of an otherwise mysterious reality." And if you get that, if you truly, deeply get that, you are able to sink in the text and enjoy it. Otherwise the book might as well be pain in the ass.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cricky

    If you're 1) reading your way through Stein or are 2) super into the detective novel genre this was a fun read. For 1) This is so typically Stein in that she completely ignores the fact that she's branded this a murder mystery and spins a story about a murder into a story about a town's politics, but she doesn't even let you rely on the facts she gives you and at times outright contradicts herself; After two chapters I realized there was never going to be an answer to who the murderer was. This If you're 1) reading your way through Stein or are 2) super into the detective novel genre this was a fun read. For 1) This is so typically Stein in that she completely ignores the fact that she's branded this a murder mystery and spins a story about a murder into a story about a town's politics, but she doesn't even let you rely on the facts she gives you and at times outright contradicts herself; After two chapters I realized there was never going to be an answer to who the murderer was. This was published after she died so it's not really clear if she meant to edit any of this to make it more coherent, but I loved the rawness of it and it unlocked an odd fascination of hers with Lizzie Borden and unsolved murders. Very fun but not good for subway reading. More like a sweater & tea Christmas vacation read for someone who's into Stein. For 2) Won't scratch THAT itch but will definitely give a lot to think about and broaden the scope a bit. :-)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I can’t imagine any list without Stein on it. This is a charming murder mystery in Stein’s inimitable, intelligent style. Hemingway observed that Stein discovered many things about rhythm and repetition, and so she did. It begins: They had a country house. A house in the country is not the same as a country house. This was a country house. They had had one servant, a woman. They had changed to two servants, a man and woman that is to say husband and wife. The first husband and wife were Italian. I can’t imagine any list without Stein on it. This is a charming murder mystery in Stein’s inimitable, intelligent style. Hemingway observed that Stein discovered many things about rhythm and repetition, and so she did. It begins: They had a country house. A house in the country is not the same as a country house. This was a country house. They had had one servant, a woman. They had changed to two servants, a man and woman that is to say husband and wife. The first husband and wife were Italian. They had a queer way of walking, she had a queer way of walking and she made noodles with spinach which made them green. Delicious. This is not Agatha Christie. This is not The Mysterious Affair at Styles. As to who dunnit I will say nothing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura-marie

    is impossible to follow. There is no mystery, really—or there are mysteries, but not explicitly, and nothing is resolved. It’s meant to be read out loud, and Erik read it out loud to me. It’s not very long. It’s interesting mostly nonsense, I would say. I liked it a lot. I’ve read other books by Gertrude Stein, and this one was less follow-able.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Keep an eye on the underclass.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Minor Stein, but still quite fun.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    I understand that this is meant to be confusing and frustrating, but I just don't really understand it at all. I understand that this is meant to be confusing and frustrating, but I just don't really understand it at all.

  23. 4 out of 5

    James Garman

    Ok, I can say not that I have read a book written by Gertrude Stein. I can't say that I am greatly impressed. She is so famous for living in France and being ex-pat from the United States and having a sort of salon where artists, poets and other creative people visited, that I expected a great work of art. However, I found her novel to be "stream of consciousness", so full in fact as to be almost non-sensical. Her sentences may doubt back and contradict the first part in a later part. I get the v Ok, I can say not that I have read a book written by Gertrude Stein. I can't say that I am greatly impressed. She is so famous for living in France and being ex-pat from the United States and having a sort of salon where artists, poets and other creative people visited, that I expected a great work of art. However, I found her novel to be "stream of consciousness", so full in fact as to be almost non-sensical. Her sentences may doubt back and contradict the first part in a later part. I get the vague sense of 1. a piano with cement between the keys preventing any sound coming out when it is played and 2. a woman who dies 5 days later after falling from a window. A probable murder that never gets resolved with someone saying that she sleepwalked. In the foreword and afterword written by John Herbert Gill, it is explained that the theme is cruel or at least dominating fathers and murders that are remembered especially well because they are never solved. Somehow this was seen as being especially 20th Century. Sadly, I find any book where you have to learn everything, or almost everything, about the authors, live in order to understand even a little their motivation for writing, to be beyond me. I read the whole, it was only 90 pages 74 pages long, but other than the above, I can't say I really understood. In fact, I am not sure it was written to be understood. The short stories, "A Waterfall and a Piano" and "Is Dead" are included in the volume. "A Waterfall...." is a bit more straightforward, but "Is Dead" returns to the same style as the novel. In the first, the waterfall is barely mentioned and there is a goat that was apparently bought to help feed some puppies, but which never was delivered. All in all, I just don't think I have the background to understand, or to want to figure out, her work if it is all like this.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I tried really hard, but I just couldn't read it. I tried really hard, but I just couldn't read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Despite reading serious literature for over 30 years I think I need someone to explain to me if this is any good. What a weird book. Were the sentences jumbled?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    How confused are you all but I, I am not confused. It really is not confusing. --Gertrude Stein, p.24

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I appreciate I am tired and unwell, but that made very little sense... think I’ll come back to this one again at another time and see, as I’m pretty sure it is genius, I just can’t get it right now!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Goodchild

    I’m still deciding whether this is genius or madness...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lesya

    What a strange book

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jose Rodriguez

    Quirky? It's as if Dr. Seuss dropped acid and attempted to write a mystery. All I can say is that it makes sense in that way, but who to say how I'll feel another day. Who knows? Quirky? It's as if Dr. Seuss dropped acid and attempted to write a mystery. All I can say is that it makes sense in that way, but who to say how I'll feel another day. Who knows?

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