“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“The Beatles And The Stones / Sucked The Marrow Out Of Bone …”

The Grand Viz puttled off to the theatre on Monday night, as is his wont, to see Big Love by Charles Mee at Dublin’s Peacock Theatre. Big Love is based on Aeschylus’ (right) The Suppliants, plus fragments of the second and third part of a trilogy since long lost, which allowed Mee a large dollop of artistic licence. Anyhoo, the general gist is that 50 Greek brides are coerced into marrying their cousins, and agree a pact to murder all 50 husbands rather than submit to force. Racy stuff, no doubt, and something Quentin Tarantino is no doubt looking into as you read.
  But what caught the Grand Viz’s attention was the programme notes, in which Mee ventures a rather radical idea thusly:
‘There are those who take their Greek tragedy very seriously – so seriously that they believe if this trilogy [The Suppliants] of Aeschylus had survived, rather than his Oresteia, that the world today would be an entirely different place, with a foundation myth that would have made us much better off. The story of the Oresteia is that a dreadful act is committed and a cycle of revenge put in place, brothers murdering nephews, fathers murdering their children, children murdering their mother – until finally the goddess Athena comes down to earth and convenes a trial, renders a verdict, and a system of justice is established, and the cycle of revenge is ended.
  ‘The story of the trilogy of The Suppliants is that, after an immense bloodbath, Aphrodite appears, and absolves the homicidal 49 brides-to-be of their crime – suggesting that, as dreadful as their acts had been, no purpose was served by a cycle of revenge or even by a system of justice. Rather, the brides-to-be should be forgiven. The world should be governed not by the principle of ‘justice’ but by the principles of mercy, forgiveness, compassion and social love.’
    The world would be a better place if the consequence of murder and rape was compassion and forgiveness? To the Grand Viz’s way of thinking, this is – not to put too fine a point on it – balderdash. Or is the Grand Viz simply conditioned by 2,500 years of patriarchal programming? And here’s a thought – would Mee be so free and easy with his mercy and social love if the original play had been about fifty brides-to-be who slaughter their prospective husbands? And – lawksamussy! – what would happen to the crime-and-punishment narrative of crime fiction were notions such as justice and revenge to become obsolete?
  Personally, the Grand Viz tends to think that all that ’60s peace-‘n’-love and social justice is a very good idea, but only in theory and with the benefit of hindsight, too much dope and a soundtrack of The Beatles and The Stones. His emotional reaction to issues of crime and misdemeanours, on the other hand, harks back a couple of thousand years, predates Aeschylus, and can be gisted thusly: an eye for an eye.* The question then becomes what kind of society you want to live in, one governed by logic or emotion.
  A final question – is it possible to write a crime novel according to Charles Mee’s suggestion that, ‘The world should be governed not by the principle of ‘justice’ but by the principles of mercy, forgiveness, compassion and social love’?
  Answers on the back of a used fifty in the usual box, please. The vid, by the way, is of the House of Love doing The Beatles and The Stones. Roll it there, Collette …
* It doesn’t make us all blind, by the way. It leaves us keeping an eye on one another.

2 comments:

John McFetridge said...

"what would happen to the crime-and-punishment narrative of crime fiction were notions such as justice and revenge to become obsolete?"

Good question.

The problem seems to be the difficulty in seperating revenge from justice. Or maybe you need one to have the other?

Declan Burke said...

John - the recent trend has been to turn the notion of revenge / punishment into some kind of deterrent, so as it make it more palatable, and less primitive. But I think people need to feel that there are consequences to their actions, and the more an action hurts society, the harsher the consequence must be. I don't think you can have one without the other, no ... Cheers, Dec