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There’s an interesting piece by Stuart Evers over at the Guardian (which, for the sake of honesty I must admit having picked up from Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.  If you are looking at this on my blog page, and not my home page,  you can see the link just to the left on the blogroll.  Right there, yes.) about how at the Harrowgate crime writing festival, John Banville — the Booker Prize winner —  who writes crime novels not at all secretly under the name of Benjamin Black, said he spends a lot more time crafting his literary fiction than his crime fiction.

Writing under his own name, Banville manages around 100 sweated-over, teased, honed and polished words a day; but as Benjamin Black, he can manage a couple of thousand. The intimation was quite clear, “Black’s” sentences simply weren’t as important. Perhaps realising what he’d unwittingly said, he tried to backtrack, but the damage was done and there was more fuel for his critics. “He’s slumming it,” author Ruth Dudley Edwards said the following day. “He says he isn’t, but he is.”

This has nothing to do with anything.

This has nothing to do with anything.

So people were annoyed because he spends more time – I can only presume – crafting his literary fiction on the level of sentence than he does with his crime fiction, which I guess is more focused on plot and character.  There are so many reasons why this whole dust up is stupid, but I think the most important one is that spending a lot of time crafting a sentence doesn’t mean it is going to be a good or effective sentence.  And let’s face it, for the most part the best sentences are the ones you don’t notice.  I, for one, don’t like to stop my reading and say, Bloody hell, that was a damn good sentence, by Jove.  I’m not sure why I would say such a thing, or why I would have an English accent while saying it, but you get my point.  I’ve only read one John Banville novel and one Benjamin Black novel, and I liked the Black a whole lot better.  It was not because there was lots of salacious crime, which I can take or leave, thanks, but because it didn’t read like some wanker (crap, it’s the English accent again) spent all day crafting his sentence just so I would say, Bloody hell, what a well- crafted sentence, mate.  Maybe some people like that sort of thing, and if you do, more power to you.  I like a novel to work as an integrated, functioning whole, not as a collection of neatly rendered parts.  That’s just me. 

At the end of the piece, Evers concludes:

This is perhaps the rub: crime writers know that the people who matter are the readers, not the critics. But it’s high time that the critics – and the award panels – began to truly sit up and take notice of the importance of good crime writing. Like [the television program] The Wire, crime writing has the ability to shine light into the darker aspects of the world in which we live. And whether Banville does consider himself to be slumming it or not, what is important is that crime’s artistic legitimacy is at least now up for serious debate.

Nor this.

Nor this.

Evers is raging against the critical machine, but I’m not sure the machine needs to be raged against, at least not in this country.  Crime fiction that rises above does get its due.  Genre fiction with no grand aspirations is often not treated seriously because it doesn’t deserve to be.  It is often built of functional prose, but no more.  The real issue it seems to me is marketing.  Crime fiction as literature has to be marketed as such to get the kind attention of critics.  The idea is that it has many of the features of a mystery or thriller, but you don’t be laughed at by your high brow friends because this book is literary.  These tools are often useful in helping readers find material they will enjoy, and the truth is that crime fiction marketed in this way does often read differently than crime fiction marketed as pure genre reading.  The only problem I see is that high quality, transcendent crime fiction loses out if it is not vetted early.  Once it is put in a garish package with the label stating A Sheldon Finklestein Mystery!  emblazoned on the cover, all the transcending in the world isn’t going to help it get taken seriously.  But hell, life’s unfair.  What are you going to do?

2 Responses to “”

  1. Anja says:

    Personally, I love crime fiction, suspense and thrillers. Far more than ponderous, pretentious, navel-gazing and character self-absorbtion loaded with faux profundity and masquerading as literature. (Bloody Hell! That was a damn good run-on sentence, by Jove! 🙂 I’ve been tempted to throw certain books across the room in frustration–except that I read from THE KINDLE APP ON MY IPHONE!!! I don’t see a need for an actual Kindle when this works so well. I’ve owned the phone since April, caving into buying it because of its compatibility with Kindle. So Mr Liss, if you have an IPhone, you really don’t need anything else.

    As for the pet pic, as I mentioned before my Bombay black kitty looks rather like yours, so it seems redundant to send an image. She’s known sometimes as the Witch’s Familiar, but I think that’s more a comment on me than her.

    Enjoy the blog. I guess we don’t have to extol a writer to keep it up, do we?

  2. Laura says:

    I just like reading a bloody good book…literary or whatever genre…just as long as it doesn’t insult my intelligence…or isn’t too stupid for words…Let’s see…the last book I threw across the room was Nicholas Sparks ‘Message in the Bottle”…argh, they made a movie out of that, it as bad as “Bridges of Madison County” or whatever that was called…the last book that I struggled through to the bitter end was “Kafka on the Shore” (the author’s name escapes me, but it was a darling of the critics) Yet, I love the wordy Russians, and my most favorite book is Porius the hefty tome by a Brit named John Cowper Powys. Go figure, right? To each his own. (I just found you on Goodreads, nice to meet you, I’ll have to add your novels to my “to-read” list.)

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