19/04/2009

Upside Down

Just found a one-year-old interview (in Molière's language) of Edgar-winning author Tana French, and the following passage got me, well...

"Moi-même, je reprends les traditions du polar mais je les chamboule. Par exemple, mon narrateur parle à la première personne, une coutume du roman policier, sauf que là, il ment."

Rough translation:
 
"I myself carry on the traditions of mystery fiction but I turn them upside down. For instance my book is narrated in first person, which is an old convention of the genre except that in this case the narrator lies."

I'm no scholar, but it seems to me unreliable narrators have been a feature of mystery fiction for a long, long time. It can even be tracked back to a relatively obscure twentieth-century British author going by the name of Agatha Christie and her almost completely forgotten 1926's book "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd". Turns out Ms. French may not turn conventions as way upside down as she thinks.

But then isn't that a predictable result of the presentism currently prevailing in the mystery field? It's a rather fascinating paradox that the more popular the genre gets, the less known it is. A lot of critics, readers and writers have what may charitably be called a perfectible knowledge of its history, and classics are often more revered than actually read. What we have as a result is books praised for allegedly groundbreaking originality while they have in fact many predecessors. And authors congratulating themselves for breaking rules that were broken long before they were born.
 
 

3 commentaires:

Steve Lewis a dit…

I'm as amused as you are, Xavier.

If amused (and not dismayed) is the right word.

journalduntraducteur a dit…

I've just discovered your blog, thanks to the comment you left on mine. Looks great !

Henrique Valle a dit…

The fact that the author seems to believe that the first-person narrative is a convention of mystery fiction is also somewhat surprising. A True Story by Lucian (II Century BC) is already a first person narrative, the technique has developed well before Poe and has continued to be widely used outside the mystery field since then. I doubt that first person narratives are more common in mystery literature than in general literature. It's true that this technique is particularly appropriated to the conventions of the traditional detective story, because it supplies a logical reason for the necessary lack of omniscience of the narrator, but that is altogether another issue.