“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

Friday, December 5, 2008

On Little Nell, Crime Fiction And The Social Fabric

Yours truly tripped gaily along to the theatre last night to see The Old Curiosity Shop. The director, Alan Stanford, who also adapted the novel for the stage, had this to say in the programme notes about Charles Dickens (right, in ‘sultry belle’ mode):
“His novels, his short stories and his articles have become not only a major portion of world literature but also an important record of the social fabric of his own time. He wrote stories, but his stories were a record of the truth. His books tell us of an England and a London at the start of a new age. An age of Industrial revolution – an age of new Empire – an age of new wealth. But it was also an age of unspeakable poverty, suffering and disease. And of those evils, Dickens chose to write. To a great extent, he opened the eyes of his generation to the sufferings of the poor and weak. The tale teller could not only create characters of such size and range as to fascinate and enthral the imagination of the nation but could even make them, occasionally, examine their own consciences.”
  I’m not saying every genre, including the literary genre, can’t do the same. But it strikes me that crime fiction is the genre best placed to do so, and not only because it’s the most popular kind of writing, and thus likely to result in more occasionally examined consciences, but also because it’s the most immediate record of the social fabric of its time. Does that make it an ‘important record’? I think so. But I also think that things are generally only important up until they begin to revel in their own importance. Here’s hoping crime fiction never crawls up its own fundament in search of self-importance.
  Finally, because it is Friday, arguably my favourite piece of literary criticism, courtesy of Oscar Wilde on dismal fate of Little Nell in THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP: “It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at it.”

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