“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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pulp Fiction, High Art

I had a piece published in the Irish Examiner yesterday on the topic of ‘Pulp Fiction, High Art’, which concerns itself with how contemporary Irish crime novels are deriving their inspiration from classical works - Brian McGilloway’s THE NAMELESS DEAD embracing Greek mythology, for example, or Casey Hill’s TORN taking its cue from Dante’s THE DIVINE COMEDY.
  Herewith be a flavour:
Brian McGilloway’s current novel, THE NAMELESS DEAD, finds Inspector Ben Devlin investigating the remains of bodies that have been uncovered on an island that is situated halfway between the Republic and Northern Ireland on the River Foyle.
  McGilloway, the Head of English at St Columb’s College in Derry, found himself drawn to Greek mythology for inspiration.
  “THE NAMELESS DEAD concerns an island in the centre of a river where the unbaptised are buried,” he says, “leaving them in both a geographical and symbolic limbo. The Greek myths are perfect for dealing with death and the boundaries between the living and the dead. The idea of an island to which the dead had to be brought by boat so obviously lent itself to the figure of Charon, the ferryman. And, as Devlin’s odyssey in this story required him to look for guidance from one who had crossed the river, it made sense he would seek direction from some one like the blind prophet Tiresias. I suppose the inspiration comes mostly from the idea of someone who lives among the dead. Tiresias, who is trapped in Hades in the Greek myths, is here resident in an old people’s home.”
  Meanwhile, Kevin Hill, one half of the Casey Hill writing partnership, has this to say:
“You could argue that today’s pulp fiction is tomorrow’s literature,” says Kevin Hill, “and while this is not strictly true for all literature it brings up some important aspects: time and opinion.” […] “The high art versus low art and literary fiction versus commercial fiction argument has been around for centuries, since reading novels became more than just the preserve of the upper classes,” says Kevin. “Today books are as much about entertainment as education and art. So the question of high art versus pulp fiction is ultimately a question of enlightenment versus entertainment. Perhaps the real trick is to enlighten and entertain at the same time.”
  Kevin makes some interesting points, I think. The novel was considered something of a rascal when it first appeared 400 or so years ago, a disreputable form of storytelling suitable for those who weren’t quite capable of absorbing the more elevated forms.
  Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the novel has ascended to its lofty place in the pantheon, where it is touted as a far more cerebral form of storytelling than film, say.
  That may well be a class thing, as Kevin suggests. It’s the middle- and upper-classes, after all, who have had access to education, historically speaking, and are thus funnelled into a system in which they are brainwashed into believing that one kind of storytelling is superior to another.
  When the novel first appeared, education and access to literature was a privilege rather than a right. Thus the literary genre still clings to that affectation of superiority, whereas the crime and sci-fi genres - any of the popular genres, really - are more recent developments, and were born into, and were the product of, a more democratic age.
  The same is true of film, probably. Critics and audiences tend to take a film on its merits, rather than judge it according to its genre roots. Again, film is very much a product of the 20th century.
  Anyway, for the rest of that Examiner feature, including Ken Bruen’s remedy for any crime writer suffering ‘notions of literary affectation’, clickety-click here

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