“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.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Watchmen: Who Reviews The Reviewers # 2

I don’t want to get into the habit of reviewing reviews, but Nick Hay’s review of Andrew Pepper’s KILL-DEVIL AND WATER over at Reviewing the Evidence popped out at me. Hay quite liked Pepper’s third novel in the Pike series, finishing up thusly:
“Despite this reservation KILL-DEVIL AND WATER deserves two very hearty cheers. The plot is excellent, the writing good, the historical and political observation both gripping and committed. And it is real value for money; this is a lot of book in terms of weight of plot, detail, and seriousness of purpose.”
  Pepper doesn’t get a third hearty cheer because of Pike himself, whom Hay believes is hamstrung in the context of the book because of his role as a ‘noir anti-hero’. Which is fair enough, and fair comment, but then Hay nutshells things thusly:
“All this makes KILL-DEVIL AND WATER a very male book.”
  Now, I’m not quibbling with Hay’s review in general, because it’s a very good example of a thoughtful, considered critique. But is it really valid to offer an even partially negative take on a book on the basis that it’s ‘male’, or ‘very male’?
  Ladies? I’m particularly interested in your take on this …

13 comments:

Donna said...

Well, I'm no lady (she says, channeling Mae West), but any review that says "this is a very male book" is going to send me scurrying (as fast as the 4 inch heels will allow) off to buy it. I love noir, I love noir anti-heroes, I don't like chick-lit or chick-flicks. Give me some random violence and hot and sweaty sex any day (just don't tell my mum).
Donna

Barbara said...

Oddly enough, I was just thinking about this in connection to two books I was recently sent to review. One is very much in the form of a "women's novel" - to the point that I wondered if a man would be able to stand it. It's about a woman who is paralyzed and barely coming out of a coma and realizes someone is trying to kill her. Talk about fem jep! The suspense is all built around relationships, with (naturally) very little action. (I mean, she's in a coma. Bit limiting in the action arena.)

The other was about terrorist building a nuclear weapon, being prevented by a bloke who is both patriotic and a world-class asshole. Lots of trucks and gadgetry and punch-ups. Definitely a "male" book in that it seems designed to emphasize things little boys like: big trucks! fights! explosions! And the anti-hero does pigheadedly go it alone even when it seems stupid.

So I was thinking about books I really like, which tend to include interesting relationships that lend a lot to the story and plenty of action. Maybe not so many big trucks, and ix-nay on romantic dithering and helplessness.

A third book I just reviewed is George Pelecanos's new book, The Way Home, which is brilliant and it's totally about masculinity. Is it a "male" book? It's certainly about being male, and there are fast cars and fights and a certain amount of swagger involved. But it's really about fathers and sons and the choices men have to make as they try to become who they want to be. It's actually more about relationships than it is anything else.

So ... what was the question, again? :-)

bookwitch said...

Written by a man. What does he know?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Having read neither the review nor the book, I nonetheless ask whether a “noir anti-hero” is necessarily “very male.” If so, what is one to think such authors as Vicki Hendricks, Megan Abbott and Christa Faust, to name three?

But I'm grateful for thoughtful reviews, so now I'll go read this one.

Would you believe that my v-word is swomb?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Declan Burke said...

I'm with you, Donna - metaphorically, alas. When I think of noir and noir anti-heroes, I think of James Cain, but I wouldn't have thought Postman or Double Indemnity, say, were particularly 'male' ...

Declan Burke said...

Pelecanos is in a league of his own, Barbara ... The Way Home sounds terrific.

Those kind of 'male' books - nuclear warheads, big trucks, etc. - I can't say they do it for me. "The things little boys like ..." seems pretty apt there.

At the risk of sounding a sexist pig, I don't often read books written by women ... but I do like reading books about men written by women. Mary Renault is one of my favourites. Are women better at writing about relationships than men? They probably are, given that they're better at relationships than men.

Declan Burke said...

Ms Witch? I do the casual sexism around here, thanks all the same.

Declan Burke said...

Peter - Off the top of my very hungover head, I'd add Patricia Highsmith to that list ... If the old synapses ever start firing again, I may even think of another name. Or another thought. Maybe ...

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hung over, are you? From celebrating the American tradition of St. Patrick's Day?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Declan Burke said...

Premature birthday celebrations, Peter ... and I'm afraid I peaked too soon. I feel 40 today ...

Peter Rozovsky said...

A song in honor of your present condition. And a happy birthday to you when you get your legs back.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

bookwitch said...

Shamrocks? Found some for sale here (Stockport) today. What does one do with them? Fresh, they were.

Declan Burke said...

The shamrock, Ms Witch, can be used to (a) prove irrefutably the logic of the Holy Trinity, being God, the Son and the Holy Ghost (three leaves on a shamrock, see); or, (b) pin to your lapel to justify getting puggled with drink on March 17th. Or, if you're particularly puggled, and those around you are utterly stocious, both.