19/01/2009

Necessary Distinction

It had to happen. After the Daily Telegraph and the London Times, it's the Guardian's turn to issue a list of the supposedly best in crime, as part of a series on the 1000 novels everyone must read - no less. Purists will certainly be surprised by the first entry, Nelson Algren's The Man With The Golden Arm. Let them be warned that it's only the beginning as other surprise-guests (some of them very surprising) include Joseph Conrad, Fedor Dostoevsky, Alexandre Dumas, Theodore Dreiser, Ian McEwan, Mark Twain and - no kidding - Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park*. For some reason Victor Hugo's Les Misérables did not make the final cut and Honoré de Balzac's Murky Business was similarly discarded even though it's arguably much more of a crime story than Native Son (a "landmark thriller" according to Xan Brooks)
 
But then this is the kind of macedonia to be expected from a list that purports to "reflect as much of the crime spectrum as possible, as well as the regularity with which literary novelists have made evildoers their theme" even though "the latter break genre rules, typically eliminating the hero who solves or prevents crime." It is also a predictable outcome of using as broad and nebulous a term as "crime novel" which can be applied to virtually any kind of novel dealing with a crime or a criminal, regardless of the author's intentions and priorities or the actual importance of the criminal element to the book. The crime/detective/mystery/suspense/thriller genre is so diverse and fragmented that it's better to stick to multiple categories with genuine meanings rather than a single one that means nothing at all.
 
*Apparently unbeknownst to the Guardian, Michael Crichton actually started his career writing proper thrillers under the aliases Jeffery Hudson, John Lange and Michael Douglas. Some of them went recently back into print thanks to Hard Case Crime. Are The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park more seminal crime novels than A Case of Need? Really?

3 commentaires:

Henrique Valle a dit…

Unlike other lists of this kind, this one seems to have been made without any criteria (good or bad) whatsoever. Knowledge of the books doesn't seem to have been a prerequisite of contributors (the author of the entry on the Eça de Queiroz's book certainly hasn't read it. Golden Age authors seem to be there to pay lip service to "classics" (almost always one single book per auhtor) but we get three books by Ian Fleming! Names of authors and characters are misspelt. The only purpose of the list seems to be to sell books («Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop»!)

Xavier a dit…

They also completely ignore Dickens (except as a reader of Braddon's work and an influence on Eça de Queiroz's) even though "Bleak House" is mentioned in almost every serious history of crime and mystery fiction. They've never heard of Gaboriau either. I don't know if lists are planned for science-fiction or fantastic but we're in for some good laughs if they compiled them applying the same (lack of) standards.

maxine a dit…

All good points in your post, Xavier.