Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Most Crime Novels Are Bad Part 2

good role model
Last week I did a little post on why I thought most crime novels were terrible. As a sometime crime reviewer for the press I see a lot of crime fiction and most of the ones that I am forced to read are beyond awful. I do self select good novels to read on my own time but in general the books that are mass marketed to the public are artistically worthless with recycled plots, stereotypical characters, ugly prose and a depressing lack of humour. The key to these books success is heavy marketing by publishers and a supine, unadventurous public. Of course there are good novels in amongst the tat but even good novelists fall into the success trap by turning their creation into a series which eventually leads to diminishing returns. As I discovered in the comments under my post last week there are many noble exceptions to this rule and there are  authors who fight the good fight and use their intelligence and creativity to keep their series fresh. But I wonder if this is really the best use of that intelligence and creativity. Instead of writing book #14 in the Bumrash and Crabby mysteries perhaps these successful novelists should take a long look in the mirror and try something original, experimental and different - something that would shake their readers up a bit and make them think. Something that would really challenge them as a writer and perhaps could be looked at 100 years from now as a really interesting 
contribution to the culture. 
This thought came to me last night when I was reading the new Michel Houellebecq novel The Map And The Territory (not, alas, as funny or as biting as Atomised) when I came upon this defintion of an artist: 

bad role model
To be an artist in his view, was above all, to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, messages which commanded you to take a path in an imperious and categorical manner without the slightest possibility of escape (except by losing any notion of integrity and self respect). These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all without any project or end point in mind.

I like this idea very much. Why not just say no to the publishers who want you to write a book a year for twenty years. All the worst offenders I can think of in this field are rich beyond the dreams of avarice and have provided for their kids and grandkids many times over. Why not just stop and take some time to think. Move to Alaska for a year or Detroit or India. Get away from your comfort zone. Learn a bit about the world. Learn a bit about yourself. Listen to the noise. Listen to the silence. And, to quote Mick Jagger, sometimes give the public what they need instead of always what they want.