Sorry I -- again -- posted to the wrong place. There's an interesting piece in The Daily Beast by Justin Peacock about crime writing v "literary writing. Wonder what people think about his conclusions. Best, Lee Lamothe
It's interesting to note that the classic novelists whose works gave us a social insight into their times (whether it's Dickens, Hugo or others) were also known as the great storytellers.
And they liked a good mystery too! In many of DIckens' novels there is some "mystery" ---often one of concealed identity. He knew his readers. In fact, ALL good stories have in some degree an element of "suspense"---something that makes you want to know what happens next, and keeps drawing you along to find out. It's essential to a mystery novel.
The post-modernist movement is essentially an ACADEMIC movement. That's why the comment about all the MFAs. These people are more in love with analysis of literature than with literature itself. And eventually, there's going to be a bleed-out.
Of course the thing that keeps them going on one level is their peers. The general public may not read or comprehend them, but within their own elite little circles, they appear to be geniuses. Read the blurbs on the back of the book jackets, or the reviews in poetry journals. It's this attitude of "we're in the know" that makes you wonder.
BTW I'm adding those two authors you mentioned to my list.
Far too often after reading a well-reviewed and acclaimed contemporary literary novel, I've found myself asking, Where in the world is the plot and social significance? Thanks for posting the link to the Daily Beast article, Jack.
I don't think you are, I.J. ! Which doesn't mean to say that your books are not enjoyable, that they do not cast a spell. I 'll read them not just for the storytelling, for the mystery/suspense, but for the vivid and often poetic evocation of a particular place and period.
Just because certain books are enjoyable doesn't make them less serious, less imaginative, less anything. I no longer have to read anything I don't want to---so regardless of what I'm reading or why I'm reading it, I want not only to "get something out of it," but to enjoy it. We trip ourselves up with certain words, which often we may interpret negatively. Like "entertaining," "enjoyable," even "beautiful." And defnitely "recreational."
Now, I might not read a book on painting techniques because it is "entertaining," but in fact it might be---and it certainly might be enjoyable!
Thank you. Poetic? That gives me something to shoot for. :)
No, I think the problem may be that we sometimes do not look further than the sales figures, and for that we think we must aim at the purely recreational read.
I think the problem may be that we sometimes do not look further than the sales figures,
I think you've hit on one of the reasons why crime fiction is often not thought of as "serious literature." It can be---as we've seen and talked about here--but because of its long-standing entertainment value, and what publishers go for because of what audiences want--- most crime writers don't even pretend to" high literary" aims. And mysteries are supposed to come out in series, so you can't spend years and years writing just one! :) Although duration of production doesn't always insure the highest quality....
Some crime writers obviously hone their craft more than others, because a true writer can't help doing that. And may, like you and others on this forum, sometimes feel discouraged when the figures show how popular the hyped-up hack novels are. If you're trying to make a living, or supplement another income, with your writing, I can see how easy it would be to just write what sells.
The other shortcoming of crime fiction as a genre---as I see it--- is that because of this "entertainment value" that has become attached to it---the plot/storyline has some built-in limitations---it really does have to revolve around the solution, and move towards it. There's only so much leeway a mystery writer can take, and still hope to attract an audience. If the ending doesn't surprise and satisfy, the reader will be disappointed, god forbid!
But sometimes a form, even with its limitations, is an advantage in keeping a writer focused. As someone pointed out, all plots are a formula of some kind.
What's really great is how much variation there can still be within those boundaries.
The other shortcoming of crime fiction as a genre---as I see it--- is that because of this "entertainment value" that has become attached to it---the plot/storyline has some built-in limitations---it really does have to revolve around the solution, and move towards it.
Yes, there are built-in problems. I chafe under the mandatory solution. And since I refuse to gather all my suspects in one room and go down the list, mentioning motives and opportunities until I get to the guilty party, I'm hard pressed to present the solution in a ralistic manner. Police procedurals have an easier time of this. They get the guilty one to confess. That's usually the route I choose.
The other problem is the most recent development where every solution must have a last-minute twist. That has become irritating to this reader. I've done that once, and it came naturally. I don't plan on doing it again.
the most recent development where every solution must have a last-minute twist.
Because the average reader loves a surprise! :) You read a lot of mysteries, you get a little jaded, think you can figure out the ending...it's kind of like an addiction. :) Every time, you need a bigger "hit" to get high. ;)
I often find the lengthy confession problematic. But it gets the job done. In a post-modern mystery, there might be no confession. The detective would know, intuitively, but there would be no resolution. Readers would probably go away mad!
I don't think Wexford always gets a confession. He works intuitively towards a solution, sifting through his memories & observations....going over the clues & evidence, building the suspense---a technique I like. Of course in the Barbara Vine novels, it's altogether different. In "A Dark Adapted Eye" she comes closest to NOT offering a final solution. Or at least not a reason for the crime. Part of what made it so disturbing.
I'm hard pressed to present the solution in a ralistic manner.
This is really the biggest difficulty if you are not adhering to the cozy school method! Oh, it was all so simple when you could get 'em all in one room! "Murder at the Retreat." The real world just doesn't co-operate!