Apparently John Banville (right) created a bit of a to-do at Harrogate last weekend when he said that he writes the Benjamin Black novels a lot faster than he writes his John Banville novels. Stuart Evers blogs about Banville’s snobbery here, and Sarah Weinman writes about it here … No one, apparently, asked Banville himself.
The truth about the difference between crime fiction and literary fiction, even if it’s an unpalatable one for most crime fiction fans, is that literary fiction tends to be written with more style and panache; and for those who are offended by the fact that crime novels don’t win the Booker Prize, say, well, that’s because the Booker is generally given to writers who are eloquent stylists.
Yes, there are superb stylists writing crime fiction, just as there are wonderful storytellers writing literary fiction; but – and it’s a broad generalisation, I know – crime fiction fans tend to favour character, plot and narrative over the inventive use of language. When was the last time you read of a crime fic fan recommending an author or novel on the basis of how well it’s written? And – for the record – how well a novel is written should ALWAYS be important, regardless of what kind of novel it is intended to be.
But aside from all of that, what’s all this nonsense about being offended because John Banville writes Benjamin Black novels quicker than he writes John Banville novels? Are crime writers and readers so insecure in their choice of reading that they need to be flattered by the literary crew? Are they so delicate in their reverse snobbery that they can’t accept criticism, be it implied, perceived or otherwise? Are they so narrow-minded that they can’t take on board a contrary point of view without resorting to name-calling and pigtail-pulling?
To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, yet again: there are only two kinds of books, good books and bad books. And to paraphrase John Connolly: 95% of crime fiction is shit, because 95% of everything is shit.
Anyone who knows anything about the business of writing crime fiction knows that there is one bottom line, and that’s the almighty dollar: and it’s this bottom line that results in so many functional, practical, fast-paced but ultimately bland crime fiction novels in the genre. Take a look at the best-sellers – John Grisham, Dan Brown, James Fucking Patterson.
Seriously, people – when those three ‘writers’ are the biggest and best in the genre, don’t you think the literary crew are entitled to sneer?
UPDATE: Crime Fic Reader Rhian was at the John Banville / Reginald Hill interview at Harrogate, and took notes. If you’re interested in what was said, clickety-click here.
“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.