“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.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Erm, Have We Had A ‘Dear Genre’ Post Yet This Week?

Kevin Power reviewed the latest Paul Howard novel, MR S AND THE SECRETS OF ANDORRA’S BOX, in the Irish Times yesterday, Paul Howard being the creator of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, a Falstaffian comic foil that has allowed Howard skewer the pretensions of Celtic Tiger Ireland over the course of nine novels. The gist of Power’s review runneth thusly:
Irish fiction hasn’t kept up with Irish reality. So we get “literary” novels about paedophile priests, novels about the Famine, novels in which farmers walk the fields - but who pops into Starbucks and orders a grande chai latte with soy? During the last decade few novelists have bothered to notice what modern Ireland is actually like. This is terrain that Paul Howard … has made his own, seeing - or, more accurately, hearing - what the Irish really are, in south Dublin anyway … You will search the pages of our more distinguished literary novelists in vain for this kind of thing. When was the last time you read a novelist whose ear for the way some Irish people speak was so acute that he was capable of writing a sentence like “Just going back to what you were saying there about the whole non-national thing”?
  About two weeks ago, actually, when I read Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK. Power’s novel deals with the same strata of Irish society as Howard’s, albeit in a more serious vein. While I believe that the culture both men target is so hollow as to defy satire – Howard’s novels are much closer in tone to farce – Power certainly recreated the mini-cosmos with a deft touch, in the process showcasing a sharp ear for dialogue.
  Having said that, you have to wonder why Power ignores novels other than “literary” ones when making his point about fiction not dealing with the ‘real Ireland’. There are many examples of women’s fiction, aka chick lit, nailing the zeitgeist, the best and most popular being Marian Keyes. And, naturally, there are any amount of crime fiction novels that do so too. In 2008 alone we’ve had Declan Hughes’s THE DYING BREED, Tana French’s THE LIKENESS, Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE, Andrew Nugent’s SOUL MURDER, and Ingrid Black’s CIRCLE OF THE DEAD.
  You can argue in your own time about the literary merits, or otherwise, of those novels, although I’d argue that when it comes to storytelling, language is a tool akin to the sculptor’s chisel or the filmmaker’s camera – in other words, it needs to be first and foremost functional before it can start claiming any other virtues. The point being, there are plenty of novels relevant to the ‘real Ireland’ – there are novels due from Gene Kerrigan, Christy Kenneally, Declan Hughes and Tana French next year – that are being written with an ear for who we are now and where we are going.
  This is not to damn “literary” novels for not engaging with modern Ireland; a little birdie, for example, tells me that Gerard Donovan, for one, is currently at work on ‘a novel of crimes’, while David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, published earlier this year, is a powerful work about the post-Troubles political landscape in Northern Ireland. But why is it that only “literary” novels are accorded sufficient weight and credibility when it comes to recording the authentic experience of what is ‘real’ about the way we live?

11 comments:

adrian mckinty said...

Dec

Dont you find it interesting that there is a certain strata of society who are proud of the fact that they dont watch TV and have no clue about the soaps or showbiz gossip which so many "ordinary people" talk about as a matter of course. What other parts of the culture are they proud not to partake of? I think that thats part of a wider problem.

There's a certain type of novelist who grew up secluded from the working class and went to private school and is thus never going to be able to write convincingly of twenty first century life because they're always going to be cut off from "authentic" culture. I feel sorry for those people - they can't know what its like to grow up in the other world and their art suffers considerably because of it. They'll never understand "real" Ireland or "real" England and they'll try to cover themselves with stylistic quirks but it doesn't quite work. The phoniness shines through in every dud line or piece of tinny dialogue. Great art usually comes from the bourgeoisie and rarely from the elites in Dublin or anywhere else.

John McFetridge said...

From Stephen King's speech at the National Book Awards:

"What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"

"Now, there are lots of people who will tell you that anyone who writes genre fiction or any kind of fiction that tells a story is in it for the money and nothing else. It's a lie. The idea that all storytellers are in it for the money is untrue but it is still hurtful, it's infuriating and it's demeaning. I never in my life wrote a single word for money. As badly as we needed money, I never wrote for money. From those early days to this gala black tie night, I never once sat down at my desk thinking today I'm going to make a hundred grand. Or this story will make a great movie. If I had tried to write with those things in mind, I believe I would have sold my birthright for a plot of message, as the old pun has it. Either way, Tabby and I would still be living in a trailer or an equivalent, a boat. My wife knows the importance of this award isn't the recognition of being a great writer or even a good writer but the recognition of being an honest writer."

The whole thing is here:

http://www.nationalbook.org/nbaacceptspeech_sking.html

adrian mckinty said...

John

Hmmm, new found respect for Mr. King. If only he hadnt said those mean things about Stanley Kubrick...

Declan Burke said...

Adrian -You're putting me in mind of Pulp's Common People ... "You'll never live like common people / You'll never do whatever common people do / You'll never sing like common people / You'll never watch your life slide out of view / And you dance and drink and screw / Because there's nothing else to do ..."

I like common people. Except for the smell.

Cheers, Dec

Kevin Power said...

"...you have to wonder why Power ignores novels other than “literary” ones..." Because it's tricky, in a 600-word review -which is, after all, supposed to be about the book at hand - to qualify a ringing generalisation! I love genre fiction, always have done. My quibble was with the failure of our so-called "literary" novelists (no names, I'm not getting myself in trouble) to do what the crime novelists you mention so obviously do (and I've been meaning to get around to Declan Hughes's The Colour of Blood) - tackle the last ten years of Irish history in a meaningful and entertaining way.
Thanks, by the by, for your kind words about my book. KP

adrian mckinty said...

Did you ever see this little mash up?

John McFetridge said...

Okay, that right there just made the entire internet worthwhile.

I have never used text message abbreviations, but OMG!!!

adrian mckinty said...

Cute aint it? Word of advice though, never under any circumstances look up "Leonard Nimoy" and "Bilbo Baggins" on YouTube. I'm not going to provide a link. It wouldnt be right.

John McFetridge said...

590,000 people have seen that. Over half a million people.

WTF?

(now that I've started I can't stop - nor will i be able to stop singing that song, OMG!!!)

adrian mckinty said...

John

I warned you. Dont say I didnt warn you.

Declan Burke said...

Erm, chaps? Shouldn't you two be, y'know, writing books 'n' stuff?

Kevin? Ta for dropping by, squire. We could do with a few real writers around the place ...

Cheers, Dec