“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, September 17, 2011

On Taking Pride In Prejudice

I’m not saying that John Boland is a crap reviewer, necessarily, and he’s as entitled to his opinion as the next man, but it’s worth pointing out that he took a pop at Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND in the Irish Independent a couple of weeks ago on the basis that it was longer, more ambitious and more geographically diverse than the books he liked to read as a younger man. No, seriously. The review is here
  This week he takes a swipe at DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, opening up thusly:
Both critically and commercially, Irish crime writing has never had it so good and Irish crime authors have benefited from the boom it’s been enjoying over the last decade or so.
  Why, then, do so many of them whinge about not being taken seriously -- or, at least, not as seriously as they take themselves?
  In his editor’s note at the start of this ragbag of essays and stories by various Irish crime writers, Declan Burke concedes that it may be “stretching a point” to suggest they are “prophets without honour in their own country”, but he goes on to stretch it anyway -- finding it “a little bit odd” and “not a little unfortunate” that they’re “more celebrated outside of Ireland than they are at home”.
  Is this true? I thought they were doing pretty well for themselves here.
  Clearly, though, it rankles with some of them that they’re treated like second-class authors …
  Now, I know it’s the done thing to just take your lumps when you get a bad review, brush it off and get on with it. But what actually rankles is when someone reviews a book according to preconceived notions, or an agenda, and deliberately misreads the text in order to prove their point.
  Because here’s the thing, John - Irish crime authors are more celebrated outside of Ireland than they are at home. If you’d like a little proof, just dig out the ‘Emerald Noir’ documentary Val McDermid put together for BBC 4 last February, celebrating the rise and rise of Irish crime writing - maybe I missed it, but I can’t remember a similar radio doc being made for Irish radio. Or click on this link here, which will tell you all you need to know about how New York University is hosting a symposium this coming weekend on Irish crime writing - again, I might have missed it, but I don’t think any of the Irish universities have marked the coming of age of the Irish crime novel in a similar way. If you need still more proof, take the time to dig out all the awards that Irish crime writers have been nominated for in the last decade in America, home of the hardboiled crime novel, the most recent example of which was the LA Times’ Crime Novel of the Year award earlier this year, when a shortlist of five writers was made of three American writers and two Irish, Stuart Neville and Tana French. Or, if you choose, just take a look at the Irish Top Ten fiction lists over the last year alone, where you’ll find plenty of crime writers hitting the Top Ten, but very few Irish crime writers. Or there was last month’s announcement that both Benjamin Black and Casey Hill will have their novels adapted for TV in the UK. Perhaps Irish broadcasters were trampled underfoot in the stampede to bring those writers’ to the small screen, but suffice to say that both series will be broadcast courtesy of the UK, not Ireland.
  Yes, John, Irish crime writers are ‘doing pretty well for themselves’ (one guy, I think his name is Alan Glynn, even had his novel THE DARK FIELDS adapted as a major Hollywood movie earlier this year). The fact remains, though, that Irish crime writers are more celebrated outside of Ireland than at home.
  I was also a little taken aback by the snide tone of Boland’s review. To wit:
Some of these are comic, and all the more so for not being meant that way, as in Tana French’s argument that crime writing has become the genre that “examines the tensions and fears of a society” and that it’s also “where the crucial issues of any nation’s identity get explored”. So, not just French, but Balzac, too.
  Laugh? I nearly emigrated. Interesting, of course, that in his rush to deploy a piss-poor pun on Tana French’s name that any self-respecting crime writer would baulk at, John Boland cites Balzac rather than any of the heavyweight contemporary Irish literary writers. As fine a writer as he is, Balzac is hardly a poster-boy for how the modern novel, Irish or otherwise, engages with current concerns.
  But stay! Because John has a word or two to say on that topic too:
Yes, the ills of today’s post-boom Ireland form the backdrop to many recent crime novels but the plot remains the key thing, and while seedy politicians and venal developers feature in these stories, their roles are seldom more than decoratively expedient -- gaudily drawn villains in tales that are much less interested in (or capable of) exploring the roots of our current malaise than in working towards the tense denouement demanded by a tried-and-trusted formula.
  ‘But the plot remains the key thing …’ Here’s a question: Since when did ‘plot’ become such a dirty word in literature? Has literary fiction disappeared so far up its own fundament that a good plot is now fair game for sneering at?
  As for crime fiction being ‘tales that are much less interested in (or capable of) exploring the roots of our current malaise than in working towards the tense denouement demanded by a tried-and-trusted formula’, well, where to start?
  I suppose we could start by pointing out that, broadly speaking, the classic three-act drama of order-chaos-order (the latter featuring redemption / retribution / catharsis) has been with us since the Classical Greeks, and by those lights is indeed a ‘tried-and-trusted formula’. We could also ask, in all sincerity, where the literary novels ‘exploring the roots of our current malaise’ are, and what the literary writers have to offer in this regard that the crime writers don’t, the vast majority of literary authors being no more or less blessed with penetrating economic insights than their crime-writing brethren, or the vast majority of economists, for that matter.
  I could go on, but the review is here if you want to read it, and I’ve a busy afternoon ahead, what with that Ph.D in Economics to study for, that overview of the use of dramatic momentum in Classic Greek tragedy to brush up on, and that essay I have to write for Book Reviewing 101: ‘Taking Pride In Prejudice’.
  Gosh, it really is all go when you’re an Irish crime writer …

4 comments:

Seth said...

Ah, fuck a bunch of John Boland. Looking forward to the nyu event.

LP OBryan said...

Brilliant, Declan. Reviewers like John Boland are prime examples of Irish begrudgery. The Irish crime wave is the best thing, in literary terms, to come out of Ireland since Flann O'Brien. The creative wave must have passed John by, leaving him bobbing in its wake clutching his tattered Irish literary illusions.

T.S. O'Rourke said...

Excellent post!
You were so gentle on him :)
Leave the dusters on next time ;-)

Photographe à Dublin said...

What a bag of weasels crime writing has become...

I've just put in my plea for taking time to read "Bloodland".

Still managing to keep my head above water, but it's a bit of a struggle.