Monday, August 10, 2009

Literary? Only if it's good!

A couple of interesting things in Saturday’s Globe and Mail that fit right into our discussion of genre.

First, from a review Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice by Randy Boyagoda: “It’s the very nature of a genre novel that it keeps its promises, fulfilling certain pleasures of expectation and discovering, including standard types of characters and standard kinds of premises and challenging but satisfying denouements.”

At first this looks like a sensible argument. But then start thinking about the books you’ve read lately. Standard types of characters, yes, if you’re talking about the cop with a drinking problem or the nice lady who makes quilts between solving mysteries. But today’s crime fiction goes far beyond the standard characters. The cop with a drinking problem might be a music lover wrapped in sadness who greatly respects his younger female colleague (John Rebus). John Rain, Barry Eisler’s assassin hero is hardly a standard type of character. For an unsatisfying denouement try the first two Simon Serallier novels by Susan Hill (The Various Haunts of Men, and Pure in Heart).

In his review the writer of the above quote seems to be saying that Inherent Vice is a crime novel, but it doesn’t fit the definition of a crime novel as he supplies it. I suspect that plenty of people get themselves tied into knots when they try to explain why a great book isn’t eligible for a snooty award because it’s only a crime novel.

Second quote is from Dimitri Nasrallah’s review of a re-release of The Postman Always Rings Twice, the 1934 novel by James Cain. “It’s a shame that in the 75 years since his debut, Cain has been largely relegated to readers of detective fiction. Contemporary literary writers could do worse than to learn a thing or two from reading his novels. [snip] He wrote compulsively readable works that defied easy categorization, blending rigorous literary craftsmanship with material more serious writers and academics dismiss as pulp.”

Type M for Murder readers and bloggers couldn’t have said it better!

1 comment:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's frustrating to me that so many mysteries are only read by mystery readers--who are wonderful and loyal readers, but only a fraction of the total book-buying public. Maybe we'll have some cross-over hits that do for mysteries what Rowling did for fantasy.

Mystery Writing is Murder