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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gospel According To Genre

There was a good piece in Publishers Weekly titled ‘Breaking the Wall’, in which a variety of crime writers discuss what Michael Connelly describes as the ‘membrane’ (as opposed to ‘wall’) between genre and literary fiction. For my money, Tana French (right) nails it to the wall:
“When you’re working to make a sentence as perfect as it can be,” says French, “or to make a character real and vivid and three-dimensional, how and whether you do that isn’t dependent on where the book will be shelved.”
  Well said, that woman. Mind you, Tana is one of those writers for whom style appears to be every bit as important as plot or character. Could it be a coincidence that IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS are award-winning best-sellers? Erm, probably not …
  It’s also true that Ireland has its fair share of ‘literary crime fiction’: John Banville’s THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE and THE UNTOUCHABLE, Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Pat McCabe’s THE BUTCHER BOY, Eoin McNamee’s RESURRECTION MAN (and others), Brian Moore’s THE COLOUR OF BLOOD (and others), Liam O’Flaherty’s THE INFORMER and THE ASSASSIN, David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME, Edna O’Brien’s IN THE FOREST (and others) … It’s a long and noble tradition.
  Okay, your turn. Your favourite ‘literary crime fiction’ is ...


Gerard Brennan said...

I haven't read it since I left school, so forgive me if I'm wrong, but it strikes me that Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale wouldn't stand up without the crime element (mugging, murder, double-crossing scumbags), and as such meets the Dec Burke definition of crime fiction.

In more modern terms, Aifric Campbell's Semantics of Murder fits the bill too, I reckon.

Dana King said...

For me, anything by James Lee Burke would qualify.

The distinguishing feature between crime and literary fiction seems to be evolving toward style more than subject matter. It's hard to get people to accept hard-boiled as literary, though few "literary" writers can craft more lucid prose than Chandler or Ross Macdonald.

John McFetridge said...

Well, I recently read Alan Glynn's Winterland and that was awfully good. Early reports tell me that The Ghosts of Belfast is the real deal.

Lately I've been thinking that what makes a book "literary" is if it brings anything new to the way books are written, to the way stories are told, that kind of thing. So, I'd have to say James Ellroy is doing more of that than most writers.

I've also been on a bit of a Richard Price kick lately and he does for New York what any great literary writer does for their city.

Now, I had a bit of a breakthrough in my own personal genre wars the other day and I now think of books as athletes. Sure, there are some great players on Real Madrid or Man U, but none of them could play for the Maple Leafs. I like Peyton Manning, but he's not much of a basketball player.

And so on...

Michael Malone said...

I'd suggest Brian McGilloway has a touch of the literary. And how about, dare I say it, John Connolly? there's a touch of the lyrical in them there books.

kevin said...

how bout anything by robert stone? dog soldiers is no country for old men, only better, twenty years earlier... no country for old men, come to think of it. lit crime... no, good old crime novel with bulky, undergrad philosophical scaffolding.

how-an-ever, to what extent does prose quality, say, enter into the equation? no writer in the english lang writes better sentences than elmore himself and nobody is rushing to call his books literary... snot to mention, there are some woeful sentences in the informer and the assassin; some smurfit's finest characters and dodgy structure in both. (i also love both of them, incidentally)

which leads to intent: if you write a novel as crime and someone (a publisher) deems it worthy, and decides to market it as lit fic based on...ummm, whatever you're having yourself... does that suddenly make it lit fic, and you (or me), therefore, a clever clogs and all round waaaay sensitive dude rather than that guy who tears up when hoke mosely tries to teach his 13 year old daughter a life lesson by telling her she needs to buy her own menthols?

literary fiction? how bout any of willeford's novels?


kevin mccarthy

Naomi Johnson said...

I vote with Dana on James Lee Burke. And I'll cast a pair of votes also for Craig McDonald and for Ken Bruen. Burke is lyrical, Bruen is concise, and McDonald is a law unto himself.

Declan Burke said...

Kevin - "if you write a novel as crime and someone (a publisher) deems it worthy, and decides to market it as lit fic based on...ummm, whatever you're having yourself... does that suddenly make it lit fic ..."

Interesting concept, sir.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Does 'To Kill a Mockingbird' qualify as a crime fic? 'No Country for Old Men'? 'Lord of the Flies'? 'The Night of the Hunter'? 'American Psycho'? 'The Collector'? 'The Thief's Journal'?

Cheers, Dec