I would very much like my own bouquet of ghost roses, is the thought I’d like to begin with this week.
Agnes’s tea has put Christine to sleep and she finds a bouquet of roses that are all stems amongst the many flowers the woman has been sent. She throws the roses away only to find that they bloom in the bin—the voice on the other side of the mirror explains that they only bloom in darkness and wants them to work on the role of Laura in Il Truccatore. Nanny and Granny head back to the publisher the next day and find a troll guarding the door, but he’s from Lancre, and promptly runs off when he finds out he’s toe to toe with Granny Weatherwax. They head inside and threaten Mr. Goatberger if he doesn’t pay up; they walk out with well over three thousand dollars. Mr. Bucket receives another letter from the Opera Ghost about the role Christine will play tonight. Salzella has called the city Watch, as requested, and Vimes has sent some of his men to stick around undercover for the evening. Granny and Nanny arrive at the Opera House and Granny suggests that the only way they’ll get into Box Eight is if they buy it, which the house would never agree to unless it was a small fortune… which they now have. They head to the city’s finest dressmaker and get Granny a frock intended for one of the wealthiest women in Ankh-Morpork by paying extra for it.
Agnes is talking to André about how they’re selling more tickets in light of the murders. She goes through old programs and notices that people use Walter’s name when they don’t want to be remembered in a part—it’s a “joke” but one that no one seems to care if he’s bothered by. Granny gets all makeup-ed and manicured for the opera. Agnes goes into Christine’s room and fiddles with the mirror until she finds where it opens. Granny arrives at Mr. Bucket’s office at the same time as Señor Basilica, and he confirms her story about being a wealthy opera patron to make certain she doesn’t out his little secret. Agnes is disappointed to find that the secret passage isn’t so impressive, just an area between rooms that has been forgotten… but she finds that you can hear everything in this passageway, and finds herself wanting to listen. She goes deeper into the building as Granny eats lunch with Señor Basilica, Basilica’s interpreter, Mr. Bucket, and Salzella. She tells them that she wants Box Eight for two thousand dollars, which they can’t very well refuse. To get back at Granny for spending her fortune, Nanny makes one of her special recipes for the group, and everyone gets overheated—apart from Basilica and Granny.
Agnes is starting to get frightened because she’s gotten lost in the bowels of the building where she’s sure the murderer has been hiding. She’s discovered by Walter, who tells her that he’ll lead her out. Agnes asks if he’s ever seen the Ghost and he tells her that he saw it once at the ballet school… which is full of wall to wall mirrors. Agnes is sure that the Ghost must be Walter, and goes to tell André, but he doesn’t believe her and she feels silly for suggesting it. He promises to keep an eye on Walter and goes back to fixing the organ with the help of the Librarian. The more Agnes thinks about it the more convinced she is, so she tells Christine, who thinks she’s daft for suggesting it. They come face to face with the Ghost—Christine faints and Agnes tries to talk to him, explaining that she knows what it’s like wanting to be something else, but being stuck as the person you are. She tells the Ghost that it’s not a good reason to murder anyone, however, and that she wants to help. She calls Walter’s name and Walter appears as the Ghost vanishes. Agnes can’t understand how she could have been wrong.
In the meantime, a young man named Henry Lawsy is trying to get his mother to the opera, though she doesn’t want to go. Granny and Nanny are busy trapping Greebo so he can change into a human and accompany Granny to the opera. He’s given instructions that he agrees to, albeit unhappily. Salzella is hanging about the soiree prior to the performance, reflecting on how terrible opera patrons are. Bucket tells him that the Watch are there undercover, which he spots instantly—it’s Nobby and Detritus. Granny arrives with Greebo (who she’s calling Mr. Gribeau for the evening), and Nanny is displeased to see officers hanging about, so she offers them some of her suicider. Salzella is arranging groups to catch the Ghost during the show, and André winds up being asked to help because the Librarian won’t move from the organ chair. (This is actually a lie: André asked the Librarian to play for the performance). Granny inspects Box Eight, and Nanny tells Mrs. Plinge that the box is occupied; Mrs. Plinge tries to knock Nanny unconscious when cornered over her concern about the box, but it doesn’t take. She runs the woman down and they see Walter walking about in the Ghost outfit. Nanny tells her that she and Granny can help them, and gives Mrs. Plinge some suicider to calm her nerves.
The mystery of this one is fun because it takes that “there’s always two killers” premise and goes just a little sideways with it. There aren’t two killers here per se, but there are two Ghosts, and it’s messing everyone about. There are a few characters who get suggested here, but the one who’s being set up the most is André, of course, having left the Librarian to do his job for reasons unknown. Of course, it doesn’t actually make sense if you think about it for any length of time because André has very little motive and also… why would you go do Ghost things when you know everyone is going to be looking for you, and also how would you commit a crime in the middle of an opera when you had to play through the whole thing. Still, you have to make him a suspect on account of him and Agnes having a vague something between them.
But first, Granny has to bully a publisher out of a small fortune (lol, would that it were so easy) so she can get outfitted to head to the opera.
We got some suggestion of this with Esme’s sister previously, but there’s something particularly wonderful about this conceit that Granny makes herself “common” and rough and sharp, but in fact, she is hiding this polished fabulous personage underneath it all. Bucket and Salzella go on about her having a face like a hatchet, but everyone’s always noting things like her perfect feet and flawless skin, and I love the fact that she’s embarrassed about it, that she chooses to remove herself from typical feminine and matriarchal expectation by sheer force of will.
And I also love that there’s always some sort of fight going on between the witches in these books, but they’re never… real fights? It feels like a piece of that puzzle where men often talk about how women are cruel and conniving to each other, how they backstab and plot and treat each other terribly, when plenty of women never do this—but also when they do, this is really what’s happening. Nanny and Granny are never on opposing sides, they just get on each other’s nerves sometimes, and do very precise things to mess with each other. And then it tends to end on a note of mutual respect and amusement, like Granny eating two helpings of Nanny’s dessert and being just fine.
There’s a running juxtaposition where Agnes finds the secret passageway and keeps having opposing thoughts where Perdita is very into the atmosphere and Agnes is decidedly less so: “Perdita thought it looked romantic and gothic. Agnes thought it looked gloomy.” And… I hate it because this is the inside of my brain always too? I have a small dramatic chaos demon in my brain who is constantly battling out the practical measured stage manager part of my brain. I’m sure plenty of people have this problem, but the thing about Pratchett is that the practical side will always win out. I’m not sure if it’s because that’s what he preferred as a person, or if it’s because that’s what he believed life to be like as more of a universal truth, but in this book, I always find myself wondering what would happen if Agnes had chosen Perdita more permanently. The idea that she can’t because she doesn’t look the part is a problem that most people have to deal with unless they get exceptionally lucky—but that doesn’t mean they don’t go for it. If that makes sense?
Anyway, next week we’ll get more into that probably, and also into more of my feelings about Phantom of the Opera and how his parody fares in taking apart what that show means and does.
Asides and little thoughts:
- The constant asides about Christine being just a little smarter than she seems in very specific ways are… I mean, haven’t we all known a Christine?
- Conversely, the way that people talk about and deal with Walter is… really tweaking childhood parts of my brain, and I think I’ve gotten even more aggro about it than I was the first time I read the book.
The shop bell tinkled in a refined tone, as if it were embarrassed to do something as vulgar as ring. It would have much preferred to give a polite cough.
If civilization were to collapse totally and the survivors were reduced to eating cockroaches, Madame Dawning would still use a napkin and look down on people who ate their cockroaches the wrong way around.
The “but” hung in the air like the late Dr. Undershaft.
As she went down she passed through layers of noise, like a very carefully made sundae of sound.
Nanny Got On with people. Nanny could get a statue to cry on her shoulder and say what it really thought about pigeons.
There was, far off, an answering sound that seemed as loud as thunder and as impossible, in the circumstances, as a chocolate kettle.
Greebo strolled in alongside her with the gentle swagger that makes women thoughtful and men’s knuckles go white.
Henry lived his life in permanent dread of Being Asked Questions Later.
Next week we’ll finish the book!