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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Truth vs Fiction: And The Winner Is …

Barry Forshaw, reviewing Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE in last weekend’s Sunday Tribune, asks an interesting question. To wit:
How legitimate is it to plunder real-life crime as grist for a fiction writer’s mill? And how long an interval should be left before picking over the bones of a murder? Celebrated crime novelists who have transmuted grim reality into uncompromising books include James Ellroy, who fictionally confronted his own mother’s murder in THE BLACK DAHLIA, and David Peace, who controversially used the Yorkshire Ripper’s reign of terror in the Red Riding Quartet. Eoin McNamee steps into this dangerous territory with ORCHID BLUE – less visceral than these predecessors, but equally provocative, as he deals with the last hanging on Irish soil …
  I was asked a similar question - How legitimate is it to plunder real-life crime as grist for a fiction writer’s mill? - during a panel discussion last year, when the mood seemed to suggest that such ‘plundering’ wasn’t a good idea at all, although that was in the context of Edna O’Brien’s IN THE FOREST. At the time I’d recently read ORCHID BLUE, though, so it all seemed a pretty good idea to me. And, in general, I’d tend to believe that the writer’s obligation is to write the story as well as he or she can, with all other considerations trailing in a poor second. But that’s just me.
  Anyway, it was a good weekend for McNamee in terms of reviews. Jake Kerridge gave ORCHID BLUE the thumbs up in The Telegraph, and was very approving of Jane Casey’s THE BURNING into the bargain; while yours truly had reviews of ORCHID BLUE, The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman’s DR YES and Benjamin Black’s ELEGY FOR APRIL in the Sunday Independent.
  Meanwhile, both McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE and THE BLUE TANGO (2001) featured Lord Justice Curran, who presided over the trial of Robert McGladdery (ORCHID BLUE) despite the fact that his own daughter was murdered 10 years previously in very similar circumstances (THE BLUE TANGO). Word is that McNamee is planning a third novel to feature Justice Curran; ‘legitimate’ or not, I for one can’t wait.


Richard L. Pangburn said...

Literature and history go hand in hand, and Shakespeare's plays are the prime examples.

And while history endeavors to stick to the ascertainable facts, or at least to sources of fact, fiction has no such restrictions. That's a good thing, inasmuch as history is so arguable.

After I read Patricia Cornwell's PORTRAIT OF A KILLER: JACK THE RIPPER--CASE CLOSED (2002), I really thought the case was closed. Not so. I see new theories all the time.

Not long after I read Ed McBain's fictional narrative of the Lizzie Borden case (saying she did it), I read Arnold Brown's very convincing historical account of it pointing to Andrew Borden's mentally disturbed son. The evidence looked irreversible and I thought then that the issue had been settled. Not so either, apparently, as plenty of other theories continue to grow.

Historical controversy gets to be like the Loch Ness monster. There's no stopping it.

C. N. Nevets said...

It's legitimate, but something can be legitimate and also tasteless. Something that is written with an eye towards telling the facts can serve a purpose. Something that is written in order to convey the emotion or the meaning of a crime can serve a purpose. Something that is written at a publisher's request because it seems lucrative is more likely to be lurid and tasteless.

That said, while I think it behooves authors to consider being mature and responsible, I also support their right to be tasteless.

Dana King said...

"Ripped from the headlines" stories often provide excellent grist for the "what if?" mill. Truth is stranger than ficiton, but it doesn't always turn out in a satisfying or entertaining manner. Writers can fix that.