Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yet More Flummery On Defining Crime Fiction

Fickle is as fickle does. There was a time when, inspired by Vincenzo Ruggiero’s CRIME IN LITERATURE: A SOCIOLOGY OF DEVIANCE AND FICTION (we read the synopsis, like), we were peddling the theory that the crime fiction genre was a broad enough church to encompass Dostoevsky, Camus, Melville, Shakespeare, PETER PAN and pretty much everything from Diddley-Eye Joe to damned if we know. Basically, if the narrative was fuelled by crime or criminality, it was a crime fiction tale.
  But lo! We soon got fed up of that malarkey – mainly because of the number of serious scribes who have no trouble ‘borrowing’ the tropes of crime fiction while pooh-poohing the idea that they are writing crime – and leapfrogged to the other end of the spectrum, faffing on about how the salient issue was one of intent. In other words, if someone was very deliberately crafting crime fiction, with due respect for the genre, then and only then could the novel be considered genuine crime fiction.
  Of course, no one gives a monkey’s chuff what we think, about crime fiction or anything else. Which – huzzah! – gives us the freedom to posit another theory on what constitutes crime fiction. And it’s this: if you can pull the crime out of a story and the tale still stands up, then it’s not a crime fiction novel; if you pull the crime and the story collapses, then it is.
  Any takers? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


bookwitch said...

Sorry, have run out of Monkey's Chuffs.

But anyway, just very impressed you can use "peddling" correctly. Have you any idea of how many novelists can't? Or do they all have the same editor who edits away the correct usage?

Philip said...

I think you are quite right there, Dec, as is your wont. That was obviously so in the Golden Age whodunnit, where there was scarcely any other point to the book, but it remains true of all the various types of crime novel we have with us now, for the crime and its consequences always in some sense furnish the structure. I would only say -- and this is just a nice paradox, not a contradiction -- that it is sometimes the case that the finer the novel, the less important the crime comes to seem. I have on occasion been so taken with character, location, ambiance, dialogue and so on that I rather forgot there would be a denouement and was in no hurry at all to get to it, though I'd still be rather unhappy if it were not a satisfactory one.

Anonymous said...

I stand by the "platypus" comment which I posted at International Noir Fiction.
We do classify novels according to the presence of distinguishing features which we tend to consider central to a genre (or sub-genre).
The problem arises when a novel presents sets of characteristics associated with different genres (and yes, "literary" is also a genre).
I'm both a crime and science-fiction reader,and I can think of a few novels that are generally considedered science fiction,even though they really are crime novels at heart.
For example,Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man is a police procedural in a society were (thanks to telepathy) murder should be impossible,while Jo Walton's Farthing and Ha'penny
are respectively a country house murder mystery and a thriller set in an Alternate Forties Britain which allied itself with the Nazis.

Declan Burke said...

Bueller? Anyone?

The 'peddling' was just a lucky guess, Ms Witch.

Philip, I totally agree ... I'm certainly not re-reading Chandler and Leonard for the big pay-off twist at the end ... it's all about luxuriating in the quality there.

Anon - anyone who can leave 'a platypus comment' anywhere is jake with me. And I'm well on board with your point ... Philip K. Dick is another marvellous genre-bender, and I reckon Ray Bradbury's DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS among the finest of noirs.

Cheers, Dec

AnswerGirl said...

I agree with your first position -- but even by your revised position, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, THE SCARLET LETTER and THE GREAT GATSBY are all still crime fiction.

For starters.