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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Putting The ‘Ooooo’ Into Spooks

It’s a little early for Halloween, but if you’re in Dublin city centre next Thursday night, October 20th, you can get a jump on the festival of ghosts, spooks and ghouls in the first of the National Library of Ireland’s ‘Autumn Chillers & Thrillers’ series in the company of the Dark Lord, aka John Connolly (right). To wit:
Autumn Chillers & Thrillers

Many of Ireland’s hottest chiller, thriller and crime writers will feature in a new series of public interviews at the National Library of Ireland beginning later this month.

  On Thursday, October 20th, 2011 at 8pm, leading crime writer John Connolly, whose series of Charlie Parker novels has a strong supernatural dimension, will host ‘An Evening of Ghost Stories’ with Dr. Darryl Jones, Head of the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, where he was founding director of the postgraduate programme in Popular Literature. Dr. Jones’ definitive scholarly edition of THE COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF MR JAMES, the foremost writer of ghost stories in English, will be published by Oxford University Press next month.
  Sounds like the good stuff, alright, although I’d quibble with the ‘strong supernatural dimension’ description - lately, or so it seems to me, John Connolly has refined the supernatural aspect of his earlier Charlie Parker novels, so that he’s now using the gothic tropes to go after a far more profound effect. There’s a scene in THE BURNING SOUL in which Charlie Parker comes downstairs in the middle of the night to find his TV on, cartoons playing, this in the midst of pursuing a case in which a young girl has been abducted. It’s a chilling piece of writing, certainly, but what it suggested to me was that Connolly wasn’t simply invoking ghosts and suchlike, but going after a far more subtle quality, attempting - successfully, in my opinion - to verbalise a sense of otherworldliness that is neither supernatural nor religious, although you could argue that it has a spiritual dimension. Maybe that’s just me, and maybe I should lay off the Kool-Aid while reading John Connolly, but I honestly think that viewing such aspects of his work, particularly over the last three or four novels, simply as ‘supernatural’ is to miss out on a far more delicate process of investigation that lies somewhere between a rationalising philosophy and an instinctive grasping after the ineffable.
  Anyway, next Thursday is the first of a series of ‘Autumn Chillers and Thrillers’ events planned by the National Library of Ireland. The second will take place on November 20th, and feature Gene Kerrigan, while the third takes place on December 15th, and will feature Alex Barclay, Arlene Hunt and your humble host. More details on those closer to the time. For all the details and booking information for next Thursday’s event, clickety-click here


Richard L. Pangburn said...

Re: "...although you could argue that it has a spiritual dimension."

Yes, indeed, and his work is the better for it. It is not a spiritualism you could rightly hang a label on; it is an unnameable, unknowable, shape-shifting spiritualism that appears unbeckoned and can't be conjoled or conjured up at will.

Parker's encounters often seem to be but altered states of consciousness which dip into a subconscious of unknown depth.

In Elizabeth Francisca Andersen's discussion of SUTTREE (A String In The Maze: The Mythos of Cormac McCarthy), she notes:

"...Suttree's altered states are rendered with a precision that demands close attention. Garry Wallace has written that, in a casual conversation with mutual friends, Cormac McCarthy said that he felt sorry for me because I was unable to grasp this concept of spiritual experience. He said that many people all over the world, in every religion, were familiar with this experience. He asked if I'd ever read William James's THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. His attitude seemed to indicate that in this book were the answers to many of the questions posed during our evening discussion."

"In reply to a letter Wallace wrote months later to follow up, Wallace reports that McCarthy went on to say that he thinks the mystical experience is a direct apprehension of reality, unmediated by symbol, and he ended with the thought that our inability to see spiritual truth is the greater mystery."

I hope John Connolly's Parker never loses touch with the unnameable and the unknowable either.

Richard L. Pangburn said...

Heck, I know that some disapprove of any supernatural element in detective novels. Considering how many quality authors drop by this blog and often comment, I was hoping for some enlightening discussion.

Ghosts are a part of the human experience; they're not real but protections of our subconscious, and hence they are there even when they are not there.

Ghosts have always been with us in story. No one takes them seriously, yet even the most staunch materialist will recognize their significance in our literature as symbols, hauntings from the past.

Dr. Connolly's supernatural elements in his fiction are rather like those in Ed McBain's novels such as GHOSTS. Like Hamlet's dead father in HAMLET, they are merely playing their part.